When our streets become too congested, why not take to the open water to get around? SeaBubbles is a startup that aims to revolutionize waterborne transportation through fleets of sleek, hydrofoil-equipped shuttles designed to make city travel more convenient, leisurely, and sustainable.
Think of them as futuristic water taxis. Alain Thebault and Anders Bringdal, a sailor and windsurfer respectively, started the company seven months ago and have already raised $500,000, with a goal of raising $1 million more by next year. Backers include the founder of drone-maker Parrot, Partech Ventures, and the French government-backed BPI fund. The founders hope to have a prototype to show off at next year’s CES, and are aiming to have over a dozen vessels in the River Seine in Paris by summer 2017.
“We have cities stuck in traffic jams, there’s pollution everywhere, and we’ve got something that could actually help this,” Bringdal said over drinks at a Manhattan club last week. “We have a boat that is green, it leaves no noise, it leaves no waves.”
SeaBubbles’ electric-powered shuttles will be made of fiberglass and high-density foam, with linen interiors. The foils affixed to the hulls reduce the amount of drag, allowing the “bubbles” to travel as fast as 30 mph in water around a city. They will be able to carry up to five passengers and a driver, though Bringdal and Thebault hope to eventually have a self-driving system. Specially designed docks would also serve as charging stations. The vessels will be hailed by smartphone app like Uber, with whom the founders say they’ve spoken to about possibly partnering up. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is also a supporter, they say.
SeaBubbles faces enormous financial and regulatory challenges. Bringdal and Thebault have to build a working prototype, woo investors, convince city officials to allow them to operate in their waterways, and build an app for passengers. Uber just built an app. SeaBubbles will have to create an entire transportation network from scratch.
Bringdal and Thebault know a thing or two about high-speed sea travel. In 2009, they broke the record for speed on a floating sailboat they designed called the Hydroptère. (The vessel was later abandoned in Hawaii, and then finally sold this year.)
The founders admit they may have to start small — fleets sold to island resorts or for corporate use — before they can realize their dream of SeaBubbles servicing cities like Paris or New York.
“It is not that complicated. The boatyards are there that can build them, the docks are quite easy to build, the app is already there if we chose to work with Uber,” Bringdal said. “If everything we say we do, there will be an explosion.”