Founders of Seaformatics Systems Inc. (from left) Robert Boyd, Geoff Holden, Adam Press and Andrew Cook have briefly stepped away from designing and manufacturing power harvesting and wireless communication technology for the subsea market to develop and launch a smaller version of their hydroelectric turbine technology for the everyday consumer.
There’s another hydroelectric project picking up steam in the province and this one won’t cost generations of taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
As an added bonus, it fits neatly in your backpack and can be used to harness the power of water or wind.
The Waterlily is the latest product from Seaformatics Systems Inc., a St. John’s-based company launched a little more than 18 months ago to commercialize power-harnessing and wireless-communication technology for use in the subsea market that was developed through a research and development project at Memorial University.
But commercializing the technology, known as Sealily, was proving difficult, according to CEO Andrew Cook, who is a co-founder along with fellow engineers Adam Press, Geoff Holden and Robert Boyd.
“It’s a really tough market to get into mainly because most of the customers are fairly risk averse. They don’t really like to adopt new tech that readily and I can understand that with the costs of the programs they’re running,” says Cook. “The data that they’re collecting can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, to get and if a piece of equipment can cause loss of some of that data, then it’s not something they’re going to want to try.”
In order to generate the capital needed to build demos and get them into the hands of clients, the Seaformatics team decided to miniaturize the technology into a tool that would appeal to the outdoor enthusiast market.
The Waterlily was born and the interest was immediate. A Facebook video of the 3D printed prototype — “It was just a whirligig spinning in the wind,” admits Cook — garnered well over 20,000 views on the first day alone.
Content curators soon caught wind of the product and after it went viral on one popular science and technology website, Discovery Channel featured it on an episode of Daily Planet.
“That was on a Friday night, then Saturday our orders just started to take off and it’s been going well ever since,” says Cook, who says more than 600 have been pre-ordered through the company’s website at a discount rate of $159.
Seaformatics is closing out its first investment round in the coming days that will see them receive $500,000 that will be used to produce the first batch of the Waterlily.
The plan is to use Canadian manufacturers.
“Canadian contract manufacturers — especially with the low volume stuff, we’re not building millions of units yet — are trying to be competitive in terms of rate and we think we’ll get better quality in the end if we get it made in Canada,” Cook says.
Like its parent product, the Waterlily uses water current or wind to generate 5V power output for charging USB devices via a direct charging cord that measures 12 feet.
A quick-moving river or winds of 36 kilometres per hour, for instance, will charge a smartphone in 2 1/2 hours.
“Our sweet spot is still water. It’ll work the best if you can get it into a water flow because there’s that much more energy in a river or a stream than there is in wind and you do need pretty significant wind to be able to charge at any significant rate,” explains Cook.
The company is also developing a towing kit for canoes and kayaks, a hand crank for emergency situations when wind or water is not available, and a bike mount.
“We’re kind of using a Go-Pro kind of model,” says Cook. “We’re going to sell the basic unit and then we’ll have accessories that you can use to attach it and use it in different applications.”
They’re also looking at developing a model with 12-volt output.
There are other similar products on the market, namely the Enomad out of Korea and Germany’s Blue Freedom, but Cook says there are several ways the Waterlily differentiates itself, and first and foremost is the wind power option.
“Our design has very low friction so it’ll start to turn in a really low speed flow, which is one of the reasons why our system will work in wind and water.”
And whereas the competitors charge a battery inside the turbine that has to be removed, the Waterlily allows users to charge in real time.
“People are already carrying batteries with them anyway, so why make them carry another battery to charge the batteries they already have if you can just do a direct charge,” Cook says.
But Seaformatics hasn’t forgotten where the Waterlily started and will pivot back to the subsea applications for their technology in the future.
“We’re looking at rolling out subsea products and focusing on starting to move over to that as well later next year, once we’re in a cash position where we can actually make a proper attempt at commercializing it in the subsea area.”