GENEVA— Alain Thébault is working on making a small bubble-shaped electric catamaran that can "fly" over water. And perhaps be remotely controlled.
This vehicle may sound like something that belongs to the realm of science fiction except for the fact that Thébault is a successful inventor. He created the Hydroptère, one of the fastest boats in the world.
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Thébault's Hydroptère — Photo: Thomas Lesage
Thébault imagines an environmentally conscious vehicle called SeaBubble that reduces traffic in city centers by using lakes and rivers. The yachtsman aims to create a transport system with "zero noise, zero pollution, and zero waves."
Like the Hydroptère, SeaBubble uses hydrofoils — fins under the boat's hull that allows it to rise above the water when sailing at high speeds. This greatly reduces the boat's drag as only the hydrofoils are submerged. "Vehicles with hydrofoils spend 40% less energy when moving," says Thébault.
In 2009, the Hydroptère crossed the symbolic threshold of 100 km per hour (62 miles per hour). In June 2015, Thébault and his partner Anders Bringdal, a record-holding windsurfer, designed sketches of SeaBubble that featured the hydrofoils that would move it up to the speed of 55 kph (35 mph).
The SeaBubble's engine consists of a "pod" — a small compartment with an electric motor and a 360-degree rubber propeller. "This technology is already well-known, successful and the professional standard," says Guy Wolfensberger, director of Grove Boats, a company that constructs solar-powered boats in Switzerland.
Thébault and Bringdal believe that SeaBubbles needs to be lightweight and, yet, store enough energy to travel at a high speed. The key to the project lies in a very light and long-lasting battery, they say.
Estimated to cost between $21,000 and $42,000, the SeaBubble is slated to transport up to four people and come with an electric recharging terminal. Investor Henri Seydoux believes the vehicle has the potential to become as widespread as car ride service Uber.
Officials in Paris have expressed interest in the project. "Paris should be the first city to test prototypes of SeaBubbles," Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has said.
"It is a very elegant solution that does not require new infrastructure," says Romain Lavault, a spokesman for international investment fund Partech Ventures.
Thébault hopes to take SeaBubble beyond France to the U.S. and Switzerland.
"With a number of bridges jammed with traffic, a parallel route on the water is very interesting â€¦ SeaBubbles will certainly have a touristy value for cities like Geneva," says Gianluigi Giacomel, a researcher at the University Observatory of Mobility.