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Switzerland

Driverless "SeaBubbles" Aim To Be The Uber Of Waterways

Virtual image of SeaBubbles on the Seine River
Virtual image of SeaBubbles on the Seine River
Julie Schüpbach

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).

"Elegant solution"

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 … SeaBubbles will certainly have a touristy value for cities like Geneva," says Gianluigi Giacomel, a researcher at the University Observatory of Mobility.

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Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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