“Artificial Gills” Have Raised $820K Despite Being Scientifically Impossible. Now People Want Answers.

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The Triton artificial gills project hit the internet like a storm, having raised nearly $1,000,000 through crowdfunding despite one, tiny detail – it is scientifically impossible to ever make a working version.

Marketed as “the future of underwater breathing”, Triton claims to give users up to 45 minutes underwater breathing time at depths less than 15 feet. Their website says:

employs cutting-edge technology to produce ‘artificial gills’. The Microporous Hollow Fiber makes breathing underwater possible.The holes of the threads are smaller than water molecules, they keep water out and let oxygen in. The micro compressor then extracts and stores the oxygen – allowing you to breathe naturally and revel in your underwater freedom.

According to IFL Science:

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.

The other option would be an entirely new generation of battery technology packing massive power into a compact form – something so revolutionary that it would take a leap of technology unforeseeable in the next several decades.

“[T]heir battery system would have to be orders of magnitude more efficient than anything on the market,” deep-sea ecologist Andrew David Thaler said.

How much more efficient? “It’d be like cracking cold fusion,” Thaler wrote.

The next problem is that you don’t just need to create oxygen, you need to provide precisely the right amount of oxygen.

“You have to deliver enough for physiological needs but not so much that you would create a toxic environment,” something that would become more and more of an issue if you went deeper and the gas was more compressed, explains Neal Pollock, a research associate at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology at Duke University Medical Center, and the research director for the Divers Alert Network.

So what you’re basically talking about is a complete rebreathing rig that current divers use, magically shrunk down to make you a Jedi from Star Wars: Episode 1.

And people have already given them over $800,000.