These "Gills" Have Raised More Than $856,000 — But They Might Be Impossible to Make
The internet is taking a company to task for an invention that has yet to hit shelves.
Titron purports to be the first artificial gills, allowing humans to breathe underwater for up to 45 minutes. It's raised upward of $856,000 on Indiegogo, and its developer said it will begin delivering the device to a contributor in December. But scientists paint a different picture.
Scientists say the "gills" aren't technically possible. A 2014 article from Deep Sea News was the first to cast doubt on the machine's ability to pull oxygen from the water. But a newer story goes further to debunk why a device this size isn't likely to work as advertised. In an interview with Tech Insider, Neal Pollock, research associate at Duke University's Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology, said in order for this contraption to work it would need to overcome three obstacles.
1) It would have to efficiently pull in enough oxygen.
2) It must have substantial power to compress and store that oxygen.
3) It would need to meter out the precise amount of oxygen for each breath.
According to Tech Insider, in order to get the right amount of oxygen, about five liters of water would have to pass through the device every 15 seconds, meaning the person wearing the device would have to be moving incredibly quickly. Even providing for that, once the oxygen is collected, the Triton would then have to have a powerful compressor and a very strong vestibule in order to store the oxygen for use. Deep-sea ecologist Andrew David Thaler told Tech Insider that the battery necessary for such a device probably doesn't exist yet.
Even if Triton is able to do all this, there remains the final hurdle, which is dosing out the appropriate amount of oxygen for each breath. Current closed-circuit rebreather technology does this by cutting oxygen with other gases at varied ratios, depending on how deep a person is swimming. The Triton proposal doesn't mention any gases other than oxygen, though the video does mention a "connector that has special compound on the inside that blends the oxygen with compound by chemical way."
Triton said it still has tricks up its sleeve. When I reached out via email to Triton's cofounder and CEO about the backlash, he said, "The article's got nothing to do with our products. They are just [referencing] to artificial gills — microporous hollow fiber — but Triton works with other components that we have not released yet to the public, so they cannot know how Triton works; they are just guessing about it."
Still, the email and video campaign provide scant proof that this concept can work. Contributors to the campaign are calling for evidence that this technology is real and the company has been slow to supply it.
Indiegogo wants to encourage innovation. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo doesn't require campaigners to provide a prototype of their invention. The crowdfunding platform said this allows moonshots to become real products.
Take, for instance, the Healbe GoBe, a device that claimed it could accurately track calorie intake without a person manually entering meal data. The project earned over a million dollars on the platform and had quite a few detractors say that tracking calories this way was physically impossible. When the device finally arrived it didn't live up to its claims — at least not the calorie counting ones. Still, Indiegogo counts Healbe GoBe among its successes.
That said, the company does have fraud-prevention systems in place and it's also looking into the concern surrounding Triton: "We are already in touch with the campaign owner and he has communicated with backers, via the Indiegogo platform, that there will be a thorough demo video by the end of this week. As always, any backer can request a refund if they change their mind about backing the project," the company said in an email.