Triton: How People Can Be Fooled by Bad Science

What’s that? Sellers misleading buyers? That’s totally unheard of! I’m going to talk about the Triton for now.

Triton

I’ve always had a huge thing against preorders. I even made a post about it earlier. There’s simply no reason to preorder items because it just opens you up to disappointment. It’s a great way for more shady individuals to rip people off. But I guess a fool and their money are soon parted, right?

There are some occasions where pre-ordering is the only way of having a chance to get the item you want. I’m talking about crowdfunding. The concept of crowdfunding is a simple one. You have an idea you’d like to bring to life, however, do not have the money to do so. So, you ask many people, each of them pitching in a little bit in return for a little something (I’ll talk about that later). You acquire the capital you need to bring your idea to life. You can make a profit and even become massively successful if you get lucky.

Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo make things like that happen. You put up a campaign, where you discuss your idea and explain it in further detail. If people like it, they can fund the campaign by pledging a certain amount of money. The site puts them in different categories depending on how much they pledge. These categories offer perks, usually the final product. The perks get better (e.g. adding additional accessories, different colors, etc.) are the person pledges more money.

It is a great idea for someone that would like to have their projects realized, however, as with all good things, there are a few rotten apples that ruin it for everyone. While fraud on crowdfunding websites are not uncommon, I wanted to talk about one that had become famous over the past month –¬†Triton.

The creators advertised Triton as a type of artificial set of gills. It was a piece of equipment that you’d put in your mouth (like a snorkel), which would allow you to breath underwater. The concept was relatively clever. The idea was that there was a special membrane that filters out oxygen from the surrounding water as you inhaled through your mouth. The biggest advantage of this device is that is very small (measuring around 30cm across), which is great for divers.

All of this sounds great… until you do the math. A number of people have tried to do the math and all came to the same conclusion: such a device is impossible to make using current technology. So, what math did they do? They basically estimated how much oxygen a person needs to survive. Then, they calculated the amount of air that would contain that amount of oxygen. With that, they calculated the amount of water that would contain that amount of dissolved air. Turns out that this number is massive. We’re talking at least 100 litres of water that would have to pass through the device every minute.

People were rightfully angry about this and questioned the creators of the Triton (now having more than $900,000 in funding). The creators finally came out “clean” and stated that because they did not want to share the details of their design, they “left out” a few of the intricate details, namely the replacable Liquid Oxygen cartridges the Triton uses as a consumable. I’m going to give the creators the benefit of the doubt and assume that these cartridges do not contain actual liquid oxygen, but some¬†proprietary chemicals that react and produce oxygen for human breath. However, they still maintain that these artificial gills produce some oxygen to help with breathing. Additionally, they offered refunds to all backers that supported the project. They then started a new campaign for this new “modified” version of the Triton.

But here’s the kicker: The new campaign’s math still doesn’t work out. For the volume of air that is claimed the be released by the catridges (you can calculate that, given that the cartridges are said to last 45 minutes), there’s no way a catridge could be that small to store it. Even sadder is that this campaign is now up to the $300,000 mark and is going strong.

I have no interest in diving (or the outdoors in general), but I do not mind technology that pushes the boundaries of our capabilities. But if you do want to buy such technology, at least go out and do some research to make sure that such technology is even possible given our current capabilities.

Such technology is clearly not. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem intelligent enough to understand that “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. Crowdfunding campaigns that use weak science to scam people are common. But it’s not only crowdfunding campaigns that are at risk from such scammers.

I clearly remember one episode of Shark Tank. Shark Tank is a show which offers entrepreneurs a chance of getting a high-profile investor to invest in their company usually in return for equity. On that episode, someone wanted an investment into an invention that could extract gold from water by using the spin of the Earth to drive a motor. You can read some more about it here. The science in that is so bad, you could write an entire book on it. The investors did not bite, but it just comes to show you how throwing in bad science can be an effective tool for tricking people into believing that you know what you are talking about.

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