A Boston-based start-up backed by some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors is betting on hybrid boat-planes to cross the east and west coasts of the United States (US) in an attempt to revolutionize the future of transportation infrastructure.
1. REGENT’s seaglinders
If the startup REGENT succeeds in delivering seaglinders, passengers could enjoy flights from Los Angeles to San Diego in 50 minutes or New York City to Boston in two hours, without traffic and the airport hassle.
The boat-planes designed by REGENT, which will be all all-electric, are a kind of boat-aircraft hybrid featuring a wing-in-ground effect and hydrofoil technologies. It’s a hybrid that preserves key advantages of ground effect vehicles while tackling some of their disadvantages.
In practice, they are based on an aerodynamic principle known as “ground effect” which consists in skimming the surface of the sea at very high speeds, hovering just a few meters above water. When in port, they simply let their hulls rest on water, like any other boat.
REGENT’s Co-Founders Billy Thalheimer and Mike Klinker have raised $9.5 million from the likes of Y Combinator, Mark Cuban, and Peter Thiel, among other investors, to reimagine the wing-in-ground effect (WIG) concept and turn it into a mainstream means of transportation with zero emissions.
The seaglinder concept sounds straightforward, but ground effect vehicles present considerable challenges which have, so far, prevented a widespread adoption of such carriers.
One of them is that, just like seaplanes, ground effect craft are very “wave sensitive”: rough seas are not an option, an undesired scenario to run a regular and reliable commercial service.
On top of that, the vehicles need a long stretch of calm water to take off. Given their poor turning ability operating on water the boat-plane could prove to be difficult to operate inside busy ports.
However, REGENT claims to have found a solution to this challenge by introducing novel elements progressive enough for its founders to position its wing-in-ground effect craft as an entirely new category of vehicle, which they call “seagliders.”
The founders are confident seagliders will benefit from advances in battery technology in the coming years. Such improvement should allow them to more than double their range to 500 miles (around 800 kilometers).
REGENT also claimed its vehicles will be six times faster than ferries and will have double the range of electric aircraft at half the cost.
3. Maritime law
Wing-in-ground effect vehicles are considered ships, operating under maritime regulations. This means that they do not face the same operational and regulatory constraints as aircraft.
The US Coast Guard is the organization that oversees this type of vehicle, but Thalheimer told CNN they’re also in close contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), since they believe it beneficial that they get involved in the process too.
REGENT expects to fly an unmanned sea glider prototype, expected to be one-quarter of the real size, by the end of this year and a full-scale one by 2023.