A group of Australian friends has found a new, unencumbered way to enjoy underwater diving without the hassle of filling and carrying heavy scuba tanks.
The system they built is called AirBuddy, based on diving using air supplied from the surface, sometimes called a hookah for the long hoses attached to the divers.
But what’s different that it uses a silent battery, floating on the surface to drive a compressor, rather than a petrol-fueled engine.
They plan to use Kickstarter to crowdfund $830,000 to get the first 500 units built and sold.
Marketing manager Lucy Palusova says using the technique of using compressed surface air supplied to a diver via a hose has existed for almost 200 years.
“However, the exciting times are yet to come with today’s technologies and materials making it possible to manufacture a powerful, but small and lightweight unit,” she told Business Insider.
“The best thing is, whereas there is a little room for improvement for scuba, hookah equipment has a great potential to evolve in the future. We like the parallel with electric cars that existed since 1800s but only make their way to mass market now.”
Up to now, hookah units have been heavy and cumbersome, weighing 35kg or more and costing upwards of $3000.
“We worked together with a group of recreational divers and snorkelers to design AirBuddy,” she says.
“Thanks to our six patented solutions, we were able to significantly decrease the weight and size.”
They think they can retail AirBuddy for about $1600. The units deliver about 45 minutes of air at a maximum depth of 12 meters. The batteries recharge in about 3.5 hours using a charger similar to that of a laptop.
So far, they have spent $60,000 on material, services and software to develop the current prototype. Add in labour, and the development costs rise to more than $200,000.
They built five generations of prototypes, the first bolted together from off-the-shelf parts bought at a hardware store. Now they use 3D printers and get parts specially machined.
The founders have a lot of “water-love” between them. Managing director Jan Kadlec is a regular diver and and Lucy is an underwater enthusiast. Mechanical engineer Juraj Kadlec and manufacturing professional Ivan Maturkanic have a lot of snorkeling experience.
“We believe 12 metres (the height of a 4-storey building) is deep enough to explore the marine life and stay safe,” she says.
“We could make the AirBuddy for deeper depths. However, diving deeper requires higher air flow and pressure, thus a more powerful compressor, a stronger battery, longer hose … all adding to weight, size and costs.
“We don’t have the ambition to replace scuba, just to provide another alternative for shallow water diving. Scuba is great for deeper dives and cave diving.”
This is how the system works: