New thought in any global arena doesn't take long to propagate these days. Given an idea, there are now many small, highly skilled commando-like development teams that can employ the latest materials and technologies and rapid manufacturing and prototyping techniques to build and test a series of prototypes within a short time and develop a complete product in months ... and this is such a tale, involving two such teams.
Once upon a time, the adoption spread of new technology across the world was agonizingly slow. For ideas to travel to foreign lands often took decades, perhaps even centuries.
Some of history's killer apps, such as the wheel, the chariot, the longbow, crossbow ... ad infinitum, required hundreds of years to come into common usage seemingly short distances away.
By contrast, now we're all connected via the internet, and the tyranny of distance has been comprehensively defeated, it takes just the broad concept to enable a horde of people out there with education and new skills to take that idea and commercialize it.
This week it seems we're reporting on the emergence of a new watersports marketplace which we'll loosely term, the "riding the firehose" marketplace.
Li set out on a decade-long journey of development and prototyping and enlisting like-minded people, skills and money, and in 2009, some nine years after conceiving the idea, the Jetlev Flyer was shown for the first time at the globally-important Boot Dusseldorf boat show, having been developed in its final stages in conjunction with German company MS Watersports GmbH.
To do so Li had to build a high speed pump and a boat to house it, plus pioneer the concept on a global market. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he moved mountains to put the idea into commercial form and the Jetlev is undoubtedly the market leader at this point in time with dozens of its US$100,000 Flyer systems delivered and delighting buyers and renters across the globe.
The rental market for this device is seemingly wide open. Jet skis don't cost much than US$10,000 and yet they still command US$50 an hour and more for rental anywhere in the world. The down side is that they have a low occupancy rates due to the ease of purchase of PWCs and the amount of competition.
The Jetlev however, offers a much much higher rental rate, and almost total occupancy. Even at US$100,000, the Jetlev offers a rapid ROI and very healthy ongoing profits thereafter, with a sufficiently high entry-level price to deter competition despite a seemingly insatiable public demand.
Rental services that have sprung up around the world's holiday and luxury hotspots report the device as being a real money spinner due to the rave reviews of those who have tried it, the ease of use of the water-powered jetpack, and the spectacular nature of the ride to onlookers.
The US$100,000 Jetlev has quickly become a favorite highly visible boys toy throughout the Middle East, the European Riviera, California, the Caribbean and other hang-outs of the conspicuously mega wealthy.
The propagation of the "firehose" idea has no doubt been helped by the outrageously spectacular show such a device puts on. It is its own promotional tool.
The Jetlev, Flyboard and Jetovator are all visible for miles around when they are in operation, and this creates its own publicity to a receptive audience that's already on or near the water.
That such "firehose" devices draw crowds of admirers from miles away is quite literally true.
The show is visible across a wide lake as the massive plumes of spray all point to an Iron Man flying figure 30 feet in the air. It's so spectacular, and such a wild concept that people might drive 20-30 miles around a lake to get a closer look at what looks like the fabled Bell Rocketbelt which ignited public interest when it flew in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics.
The original Rocketbelt was such a cool toy that it actually made it into a James Bond film, but sadly it had a range of 30 seconds, at which point it dropped like a stone - hardly suitable for commuting unless your surname is Pastrana. Massive leaps forward in the design of rocketbelts are still underway, most notably the Martin Jetpack and Jetpack International. But that's another story.
The Jetlev strap-on device looks just like a rocketbelt - it has a strap-on backpack and a boat which trails behind and houses the pump and it's available now for US$100,000.
He figured that as a PWC already has a 150-300 bhp motor and pump, it could be adapted to constitute the majority of the machinery required to create the "firehose", and Zapata Racing started to develop the Flyboard during Spring 2011.
The Flyboard (pictured above), straps the firehose to wakeboard/skateboard with hand held stabilizer jets to sit atop the fire hose.
Think of Zapata not so much as a PWC racing champion (which he most certainly is) and more of a watersports equivalent to Colin Chapman (Lotus) or Bruce McLaren, but on a much smaller scale, at least so far.
Zapata can and does ride his creations but his company has developed an entire range of cutting edge watersports equipment, not the least of which are PWC race machines including limited edition V8 and V6 PWCs with outrageous horsepower. Zapata Racing has a globally recognized range of products and a fine reputation, being stocked internationally by the finest PWC racing suppliers.
Indeed, the development feats achieved by Franky's aforementioned "commando" team make his performances on the PWC championship circuit pale. His web site openly boasts that Zapata Racing can do "in a few days what our competitors do in one year."
In 2009, the company produced its first complete PWC, the FZ 950, which was developed and produced in just six months. In 2010, the company decided to build a 2600cc V8 PWC, and just three months later, the ski was racing in international competition. In 2011, the company's MZR V6 went from drawing boards to competition in two months.
Indeed, Zapata's creations deserve an entire story in themselves, but for the purposes of this story, Zapata produced a limited edition run of eight V8 PWCs. The machines ran the Hartley Enterprises V8 derived from grafting two Suzuki Hayabusa 1300 four-cylinder top-ends together.
The result is a bonsai V8 that weighs just 200 pounds (90 kg) and produces 340 bhp and 240 ft pounds of torque, but because all the aftermarket go-fast gear (pistons, rods, valves, blowers, cams etc) for the Hayabusa fit this engine, it can be persuaded to produce as much horsepower as you require, all the way past 1000 bhp if you want to use forced induction. Zapata settled for a useable 340 horsepower in a PWC that weighed just 300 kg.
Do the maths. The world's fastest road car, the Bugatti Veyron Supersport, has 1184 bhp, and weighs 1888 kg for a power to weight ratio of 0.627.
The Zapata V8 has 340 bhp and weighes 300 kg, giving it a power to weight ratio of 1.133, nearly double that of the world's fastest road car.
Indeed, to get something with an equivalent power to weight ratio on four wheels, you need to go to Formula 1 where the engines produce 730 bhp and the cars weigh 640 kg, for a ratio of 1.141.
Zapata's next PWC was based around a Mercury V6 two-stroke and produced 385 bhp while weighing just 250 kg, giving it a power to weight ratio better than a MotoGP bike. Zapata's PWCs run at well over 100 mph.
Hence, when Zapata decided to have a crack, he had a highly skilled, highly motivated team and all the requisite tools to complete the task and given the company's rapid development techniques, the development process took just a few months.
Zapata's web site chronicles the development thus: "Everything went very fast. After several prototypes we finally succeeded to get out of water and stabilize in the air thanks to our under feet propulsion and the hand stabilization. Then, we worked during one month in improving the flight intuitivity, we patented in INPI and introduced the Flyboard during the World Championship in China.”
The Zapata Racing Flyboard costs US$8000 and is available from Zapata racing. It adapts to Kawasaki, Yamaha and SeaDoo models above 150 bhp.
Innespace's Rob Innes is a Northern Californian entrepreneur who began building water toys during his teens in his native New Zealand. His company's main product is the Seabreacher, another favorite boys toy of the mega rich due to its ability to run both above and below the water, and to leap out of the water like a dolphin.
The Seabreacher X is the latest range-topper with its 260 bhp supercharged engine giving it a top speed of 50 mph on the surface and 25 mph below it. The new fully vectored thrust system of the Seabreacher X mimics the tail articulation of real aquatic animals like sharks and dolphins.
As Innespace has produced many such bespoke models for a wealthy clientele for years, the range of features includes a snorkel mounted video camera that transmits live video to LCD screens for the pilot and passenger during dives, GPS navigation, and a stereo system with iPod dock. Rob and his team went through a similar commando operation to bring the Jetovator to market. The Jetovator is somewhere between a racing motorcycle and a fighter aircraft, with seemingly identical performance to the Jetlev and Flyboard, but with the ease of riding a bike. Innes says the "intuitive" controls allow first time riders to fly like professional pilots.
The Jetovator works in a similar fashion to the Flyboard in that you connect a 40 foot hose and thrust adapter to any high-output personal watercraft, then you can fly 30 feet in the air at 25 mph and dive up to 10 feet below the water, performing wheelies, barrel rolls and back flips along the way.
"I'd been working on a similar device to the Jetovator for decades, starting all the way back in New Zealand, but other projects got in the way and the demand for the Seabreacher has kept us busy with R&D and new models and when I first saw the Jetlev, I kicked myself for not having finished it.
"At the same time I recognized what a long relentless road commercializing a product is and I really dips my lid to the Jetlev. Having developed a water toy with a similar price and market with the Seabreacher, I know just how difficult that road is to travel," said Innes.
"Then the Flyboard came along and we knew straight away that we just had to finish the Penetrator, which was what the concept was originally named. From there it was three months of intense work and even in the first iteration, it was incredibly easy to ride. We've now fine-tuned it a lot, and it's now to the point where more than 30 people have ridden it, and the only time people fall off it is when they are doing something really crazy.
"As soon as we knew we had something pursuing, and we created a new company, Jetavation, to handle the product and it's been testing and developing and then finalizing an initial version that has kept us busy since then."
"We opted for not strapping the rider onto the bike. Jetlev straps a firehose to your back, and Flyboard straps it to your feet, and that might be a hoot for some people, but it's incredibly intimidating for most. We figured that with the ease-of-control of the Jetovator and the ability to bail out and just fall in the water if you are going to crash, rather than being strapped into something, that the Jetovator would appeal more to the entry-level market."
"At the same time, it's a familiar riding position for a motorcycle or PWC rider, and we don't miss out on any of the stunts that the others do. I think the three are probably three separate products, that will appeal to people differently. They're all very cool products and the potential for a robust US$9000 accessory that enables an entirely different recreational experience with the PWC you already own seems quite large.”
Indeed, the numbers suggest the marketplace for the Flyboard and Jetovator will be healthy indeed. There are just short of two million registered PWC in the United States alone, and as both the Flyboard and Jetovator will fit most major models, the potential for both products looks bright.
“The Jetovator will make an ideal rental vehicle due to its low price as well as the simplicity of learning to operate it,” said Innes. “My seventy year old Father just took one for a flight and he was airborne for a good ten minutes.”
Early Jetovator models will be available in the next three months with a suggested retail price of US$8,975 for a standard version. There are a range of performance options available, such as fly by wire and landing gear, which will be available later this year.
Jetavation is currently seeking companies to distribute its product throughout the world, making a third manufacturer in a market for a product category that didn't exist three years ago. Zapata Racing already has global distribution, so this may well be the last chance to enter this marketplace at a national level.
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning