If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Have NASA invented a warp drive? No chance. Was a 1.2-meter-long (4-foot-long) rodent really found in London recently? Probably not. The latest member of this mad menagerie may be a new device being showcased on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo that claims to allow the user to breathe underwater.
Marketed as the “the future of underwater breathing,” the mouth-based device boasts artificial gills that provide the user with oxygen for up to 45 minutes at a maximum dive depth of 4.6 meters (15 feet). It uses a microporous filter that has tiny holes in it, small enough to stop the water getting in, but large enough to let dissolved, “free-floating” oxygen in.
Powered by a supercharged lithium-ion battery, this stolen oxygen is then compressed and kept in an on-board storage tank, ready for you to breathe. Ta da! Underwater liberation is yours, fellow scuba diver; you can throw your bulky scuba equipment away for good. Except, of course, there are several fundamental scientific problems with this concept.
Firstly, this device isn’t particularly big. In fact, it’s only 29 centimeters (11.5 inches) long. In order to filter out enough oxygen from the water for the user to, you know, not die, a device of this size would have to be getting through 90 liters (24 gallons) of water every single minute, while operating at 100 percent efficiency.
That’s about six garden hoses’ worth of pressure. The only way to do this would be to have the swimmer move at speeds that would make Usain Bolt blush.
Compressing the oxygen would also take a lot of energy, so the on-board battery would have to be powerful – so powerful that, according to Andrew David Thaler, a deep-sea ecologist who spoke to Business Insider, it isn’t available on the market yet.
Also, breathing in pure, pressurized oxygen brings with it its own health problems. Too much high-pressure oxygen can, over time, cause severe damage to your respiratory and central nervous systems.
One knowledgeable Reddit user has pointed out that the device could be electrolyzing the water, in which an electrical circuit is used to split the water molecules into hydrogen and precious oxygen. Indeed, this is how submarines produce the oxygen they need for their long-submerged crew, which is then mixed with air inside the craft in order to make it breathable.
So could Triton be electrolyzing the water in this way? Probably not. That would require a heck of a lot of electrical energy – a nuclear reactor’s worth of electrical energy, in fact, in order to produce enough oxygen fast enough. It’s unlikely Triton has a nuclear reactor inside it, and even if it did, attaching one to your face is probably not wise.
Curiously, this hasn’t stopped the Indiegogo project already reaching its funding goal of $50,000 dollars. In fact, it's clocking in at $820,000 right now, showing that at least 2,205 backers aren’t swayed by some seriously dodgy science.