In the pantheon of superpowers that people dream of one day achieving, the ability to breathe underwater is up there with flying and time travel.
So when a crowdfunding campaign launched less than two weeks ago for a product called the Triton, which claimed to be the world’s first “artificial gills” system, people were understandably stoked: The Triton reached its fundraising goal of $50,000 in its first two days on Indiegogo. (It has currently raised over $600,000, with more than $100,000 pouring in over the past couple days.)
Unfortunately for all those enterprising Internet investors, scientific experts say there’s just one major flaw with the Triton: It’s likely all a bunch of smoke and mirrors.
“In concept it sounds very good and it’s very exciting,” Neal Pollock, a research associate at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology at Duke University Medical Center, told Tech Insider.
But as Pollock (who is also the research director for the Divers Alert Network) notes, there’s little to no evidence it works.
“I would not encourage anyone pulling out a wallet,” he told the website. “It’s not realistic, it’s science fiction.”
There are a few reasons why scientists say it’s unlikely the Triton would work as well as the creators say.
The biggest is that, in order to extract enough oxygen to keep you alive, the device would have to be insanely efficient at removing oxygen from water. To filter enough water to do that, the Triton would need to be able to filter five liters of water every 15 seconds.
Marine biologist Alistair Dove told Deep Sea News that even if it were 100 percent efficient at removing the oxygen from water, the pump to do so would likely be larger than the Triton itself.
Then there comes the issue of storing oxygen, which the Triton claims to be able to do within a device roughly the size of a school ruler.
“[T]heir battery system would have to be orders of magnitude more efficient than anything on the market,” deep-sea ecologist Andrew David Thaler told Tech Insider in an email. “At which point you have to wonder why you’d wrap that up in a gimmicky set of gills rather than selling the battery technology. It’d be like cracking cold fusion, but only using it to power a novelty clown lamp.”
And then there’s the challenge of not providing too much oxygen, which can actually be toxic. That’s an issue that the Triton doesn’t even attempt to address with its design.
“Each one [of those issues] individually is almost insurmountable with a unit that small,” says Pollock. “Putting the three of them together, I just don’t see it in our immediate future.”
So while the Triton has many people dreaming of doing their best Aqua Man imitations, it might be best to steer clear of it and just buy scuba gear.
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