Tucson engineers’ UBA snorkel lets a person ‘swim like a fish’

2014-04-14T00:02:00Z 2014-04-14T10:21:49Z Tucson engineers’ UBA snorkel lets a person ‘swim like a fish’By Ashley Powell Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 14, 2014 12:02 am  • 

Two avid Tucson swimmers founded a new product that allows people to experience being underwater in a new way, and they plan to begin selling it online starting next month.

Boone Chang and Richard Trejo founded the Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or UBA, a snorkel-like device with technological advancements.

They plan to sell UBA online by mid-May for $50-$55 each, which is still subject to change.

Chang and Trejo, both mechanical engineers here, came up with the idea two years ago.

“We saw people using a snorkel and said ‘This can be better,’” Chang said.

UBA differs from a traditional snorkel in a few ways.

First, UBA has a longer tube that allows swimmers to go deeper while the tip of the device stays above the water’s surface. This gives “the freedom of movement in a deeper swim so you’re completely under the water and can avoid sunburn,” Trejo said.

The average snorkel is open at the top with a short tube forcing swimmers to stay close to the surface and at times hold the snorkel upright so water doesn’t splash in.

Second, while UBA has that long tube length for a deeper swim, it also has a pyramid-like floating device at the top with a valve that acts like a dolphin’s blowhole.

The “super dry valve” closes immediately before going underwater and opens back up immediately upon the valve resurfacing, so swimmers don’t have to come up from the water entirely.

“It’s kind of a neat experience when you’re under the water for several minutes at a time and you really don’t have to come up if you don’t feel like it,” Trejo said.

Third, the tube’s flexibility allows swimmers to move in any direction with a reliable air source at all times, “so little kids can use it a lot easier,” Trejo said.

Chang and Trejo emphasize what they see as the UBA’s overall advantage for users — being able to swim like a fish.

“We can imitate the breathing system of the dolphin,” Chang said. “The power for people to be able to swim like a fish, that’s very awesome.”

While Arizona may not be home to an ocean, ideal for actual snorkeling, UBA founders said this device is appealing to those just playing around in a pool, allowing them to do laps underwater, Boone said.

The company went through eight different prototypes over two years before UBA was ready for purchase.

“There was a lot of trial and error to make sure it worked the way we envisioned it to work,” Trejo said.

The materials, engineering and price point have now been honed, they said.

One investor has been on board with UBA and is now a member of the group of seven people who work on the side to help launch this product.

“He’s a scuba diver so he had some valuable input to some of the design,” Trejo said.

The group, who all work for free until the product is launched, came together through networking. Chang and Trejo needed to find people from all areas in business such as marketing, business management and design.

While UBA will only be available online, the founders said they will try to expand into stores when the time is right.

Bao Nguyen, a 22-year-old student at Pima Community College, was able to try out and own his own UBA before its release. He swims regularly and found UBA enhances the experience. “I didn’t have to come up for air that often,” he said.

Nguyen said that when using it for the first time, there was about a 30-second learning curve to figure out how to breathe with the device.

“I got the hang of it immediately and it just went really well,” Nguyen said.

Ashley Powell is a NASA Space Grant intern at the University of Arizona and the Star. Contact her at apowell@azstarnet.com or 573-4674.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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