FALL RIVER, Mass. — A device that lets boaters view and explore the undersea world, without getting wet, will be launched by a Fall River start-up this month.
Aquabotix will introduce its Aqualens underwater video camera to consumers on Sept. 15 at the popular Newport Boat Show. The integrated camera, which can be extended and manipulated underwater, delivers live video to an LCD display, allowing boaters to investigate safety concerns, find items lost overboard, or just check out the marine life below them.
Aquabotix' HydroView is an eight-pound submersible vehicle with camera that can be controlled by a laptop, iphone, or ipad.
The Aqualens and a sister device are the first products developed by the privately-held company which is located in UMass Dartmouth's Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center. They are both being released less than seven months after the company was founded by Rehoboth resident Durval Tavares. Tavares said the company has more ideas in the works, but the goal now is to successfully release the Aqualens and HydroView.
"We're trying to do whatever it takes to get us to Newport with our products ready," Tavares said in August, speaking from the company's ATMC office. Tavares started Aquabotix in March after spending 20 years in the Newport naval undersea industry. The 12-person company uses technology developed for military applications to create consumer products.
Its second product, the HydroView, is a sleek submersible robotic vehicle about 20 inches long that, like the Aqualens, delivers a live video feed. But where the Aqualens attaches to an extendable boat hook, the Hydroview is a standalone vehicle that can be controlled via an ipad, smartphone or laptop. And with some devices, like the ipad, the Hydroview's motion can be controlled by physically manipulating the computer device itself, using it like a steering wheel. In other words, turn the ipad to the right and the Hydroview shifts in that direction.
With such a high-tech product, it might seem like Aquabotix' innovation lies in its technology; but, Tavares said, that's not the case. The real innovation, he said, is found in the HydroView's affordability, ease of use, and low-maintenance reliability. "Transferring high-tech from the Navy and commercial markets to the consumer market has its own issues, a lot of them being price," he said. Consequently, Aquabotix staff carefully designed their products with a high-volume consumer market in mind, selecting materials for durability and cost-efficiency, Tavares said.
The company basically took an autonomous underwater vehicle that in its military uses could cost more than $1 million and designed a consumer product that will be available for a fraction of that cost, he said. Although prices have not yet been set, Tavares' best estimate puts prices somewhere in the vicinity of three times the cost of an ipad.
Designing for a consumer market also meant making sure the products were made for those with no specialized technical background, Tavares said. New users simply download an app, connect an ipad or smartphone to the device, and then enjoy. "It's easy to use, easy to maintain, cool to have and cool to use," he said.
Aquabotix will look to sell its products to the recreational boating market initially, including marinas and some of the estimated 12.7 million registered boats, according to 2009 Coast Guard figures. But other markets are also being considered, Tavares said.
Emergency personnel, oceanographers and marine researchers, commercial fishermen and others will also be able to benefit from the device. There's also the fun and educational benefit of exploring life under the sea, as well as the lure of finding sunken treasures. "So it's not just safety or the practical aspect. There's also some fun," said Tavares.
With assistance from the Fall River Office of Economic Development in the form of $400,000 in low-interest financing, Aquabotix will move into new manufacturing space next month, leasing 4,400 square feet in the Commonwealth Landing development on N. Davoll Street. With the move, the company expects to add staff, specifically assembly positions, Tavares said, adding that product parts, while manufactured in Worcester, will be assembled in Fall River.
Although prices have not been set yet, Tavares said the goal is to keep them low enough to encourage high volume sales and help Aquabotix build its brand. The company is in discussions with potential retail distributors to distribute the devices with that goal in mind, he said, suggesting the brand awareness will help the company launch future products. Asked how quickly that will be, Tavares smiled. "We have 10 more products lined up," he said.
Tavares will talk more about Aquabotix and the company's marketing plan at a Southern New England Entrepreneur's Forum event at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the ATMC. For more information, visit www.sneef.org.