A waterfall swing developed by Cleveland-area engineers has amassed over 2.7 million views on YouTube, gaining the unconventional quartet international recognition and business opportunities.
Ian Charnas, a 32-year-old computer and mechanical engineering graduate of Case Western Reserve University
, is happy to introduce his A-Team responsible for the creation of the aptly named waterfall swing: Andrew Ratcliff, artist; Michael O’Toole, mechanical engineer; Andrew Witte, computer engineer -- all of whom have impressive backgrounds in innovation. Witte most notably was recently credited with the largest Kickstarter fundraiser in history, raising $10 million for a Bluetooth wristwatch he invented, Pebble
But when it comes to the waterfall swing, Charnas credits Ratcliff with the idea.
“We had seen some computerized waterfalls and thought to do that, but something different,” he recalls. “Ratcliff had the idea to add a swing to it.”
Charnas described how it works in an email (we couldn't possibly paraphrase this):
"Water recirculates through 273 independently controlled solenoid valves at the top of the structure to create a wall of water. This water starts from a collection pool on the ground and is pumped up to a 4-inch distribution pipe that feeds the solenoids. Rotational encoders mounted on the swing axis gather information about the angle and speed of each swing. That information is sent to a computer that predicts the action of the rider. The computer then creates a hole in the wall of water, allowing the rider to swing through without getting wet."
Charnas and his cohorts believe that they've come up with a truly unique invention. "As far as we know it's the only waterfall swing in the world."
Though their initial application to receive funding for their idea from Burning Man failed, they continued their pursuit. “We liked the idea so much that we just started working on it,” Charnas recalls, setting a new goal to premiere at the 2010 Makers Faire in San Mateo, California -- a gathering of “do-it-yourself people” launched by Make Magazine
. “We set it up, and it was just barely working.”
Although the waterfall swing isn’t a typical product, Charnas treated the project like any other creation of an entrepreneur or innovator. There were trials, feedback, and adjustments over several festivals from Detroit to New York City, including Cleveland’s Ingenuity Festival, and a party at Case to celebrate the opening of the Uptown
complex in University Circle. “We figured out how to make the user experience better,” he says.
At the 2011 World Maker Faire, the group decided to take a video of their creation and upload it to YouTube
. Within the next 12-months, they heard from Honda
about using their video for a commercial using the theme, “Things Can Always Be Better.”
“I think someone at Honda’s ad agency must have been looking at YouTube for innovative things that happened to be trending,” says Charnas. “They asked if they could use our footage and give us a bunch of money.” Naturally, they accepted and used the money to completely redo the circuitry and plumbing of the waterfall swing. “We’re now at 2.0 after the changes.”
Now with a national ad under their belt, Charnas says they have more credibility. “People think you’re more real or legit. People trust you more.” This in turn has led to festival and job opportunities across the globe, including the Netherlands, Russia and Dubai. On April 4, they stop by NBC’s Today Show
then it’s on to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, July 12 through 14.
Although the waterfall swing might seem like a frivolous idea, Charnas' day job finds him working on more serious-minded inventions. He's employed as the Operations Manager for Think[box], a multimillion dollar invention center at Case Western Reserve University that allows inventors to fabricate prototypes.
As far as other team members go, Andrew Witte is a lead engineer designing Pebble, the bluetooth wristwatch that raised $10m on Kickstarter, and Michael O'Toole is head engineer at the Brooklyn-based industrial design firm Dash 7 Design.
Always thinking of his next idea, Charnas has plans for a project similar to the waterfall, but opts against explaining his vision until it’s finished. “I've found that I can talk about a project until I'm blue in the face,” he says. “But most audiences can't imagine it until they can see the finished thing, which is still about six months away.”
Through it all, Charnas continues his work with a very simple philosophy. “We’re the adults. We have to make the fun stuff now.”