Architecture

Designer builds floating off-grid "tsunami-proof" shelter in his backyard

The Tsunamiball is the sole work of designer Chris Robinson (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball is the sole work of designer Chris Robinson (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Initial models of the Tsunamiball constructed with cardboard (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Initial models of the Tsunamiball constructed with cardboard (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Designing the Tsunamiball plywood cutouts (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Designing the Tsunamiball plywood cutouts (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Sections of the plywood cutouts used in building the vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Plywood was chosen because it's far easier and cheaper to work with than steel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Plywood was chosen because it's far easier and cheaper to work with than steel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The structure has come together mostly by a process of trial-and-error, all performed by Robinson himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The structure has come together mostly by a process of trial-and-error, all performed by Robinson himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson used a honeycomb design in places, to increase strength (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson used a honeycomb design in places, to increase strength (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson used a honeycomb design in places, to increase strength (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson used a honeycomb design in places, to increase strength (Photo: Chris Robinson)
All the work was carried out by Robinson at his Palo Alto home (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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All the work was carried out by Robinson at his Palo Alto home (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Many sections were individually assembled before being joined together (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Many sections were individually assembled before being joined together (Photo: Chris Robinson)
More plywood cutouts (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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More plywood cutouts (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball is still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior and is also yet to be tested (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball is still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior and is also yet to be tested (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson expects to complete his work later this year (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson expects to complete his work later this year (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Tsunamiball will be tested first in a swimming pool, and then the ocean (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Tsunamiball will be tested first in a swimming pool, and then the ocean (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Once testing is complete, the plan is for the Tsunamiball to take residence above Robinson's garage (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Once testing is complete, the plan is for the Tsunamiball to take residence above Robinson's garage (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Once complete, it will serve as a guest-room and perhaps an AIRbnb, too (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Once complete, it will serve as a guest-room and perhaps an AIRbnb, too (Photo: Chris Robinson)
We'll check in on Robinson in a few months once he's finished the project (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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We'll check in on Robinson in a few months once he's finished the project (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The work-in-progress structure is stored in the designer's backyard (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The work-in-progress structure is stored in the designer's backyard (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball is the sole work of designer Chris Robinson (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball is the sole work of designer Chris Robinson (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The biggest challenge is not so much ensuring the vessel's buoyancy, but enabling it to withstand the impact of debris hitting the hull (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The biggest challenge is not so much ensuring the vessel's buoyancy, but enabling it to withstand the impact of debris hitting the hull (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The outer hull comprises 6.4 cm thick (2.5 inch) marine-grade plywood (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The outer hull comprises 6.4 cm thick (2.5 inch) marine-grade plywood (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The outer hull is covered in an abrasion-resistant polyester material (plus epoxy) to produce a toughness that Robinson likens to Kevlar (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The outer hull is covered in an abrasion-resistant polyester material (plus epoxy) to produce a toughness that Robinson likens to Kevlar (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The structure has come together mostly by a process of trial-and-error, all performed by Robinson himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The structure has come together mostly by a process of trial-and-error, all performed by Robinson himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson had no prior boat building experience (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson had no prior boat building experience (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Whimsical ideas such as personal jetpacks and helium balloon-powered floating houses were eventually jettisoned in favor of the relatively practical idea of a floating escape vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Whimsical ideas such as personal jetpacks and helium balloon-powered floating houses were eventually jettisoned in favor of the relatively practical idea of a floating escape vessel (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson had no prior boat building experience (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson had no prior boat building experience (Photo: Chris Robinson)
After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson was inspired to create the Tsunamiball after Japan's March 2011 tsunami (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson was inspired to create the Tsunamiball after Japan's March 2011 tsunami (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball is definitely a labor of love for the designer (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball is definitely a labor of love for the designer (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Up to eight hours a day have been spent on the Tsunamiball's construction (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Up to eight hours a day have been spent on the Tsunamiball's construction (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The wood layers are joined together with epoxy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The wood layers are joined together with epoxy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson is based in the relatively tsunami-safe area of Palo Alto, California (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson is based in the relatively tsunami-safe area of Palo Alto, California (Photo: Chris Robinson)
After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Though screws are used in the construction process to bring the wood together, these are then removed in favor of epoxy and plastic staples designed specifically for boat building (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Though screws are used in the construction process to bring the wood together, these are then removed in favor of epoxy and plastic staples designed specifically for boat building (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson performed all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson performed all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
(Photo: Chris Robinson)
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(Photo: Chris Robinson)
(Photo: Chris Robinson)
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(Photo: Chris Robinson)
After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The escape pod is kept in the designer's garden (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The escape pod is kept in the designer's garden (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The escape pod is kept in the designer's garden (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The escape pod is kept in the designer's garden (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The vessel is supported by scaffolding (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The vessel is supported by scaffolding (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The required toughness is harder to achieve than buoyancy (Photo: Chris Robinson)
After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After some two years of painstaking design and construction, the escape pod, dubbed Tsunamiball, nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
It should easily fit the designer's family (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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It should easily fit the designer's family (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Robinson carried out all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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There's a captain's window and also several tough portholes installed (Photo: Chris Robinson)
After two year's work, the project nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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After two year's work, the project nears completion (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Hopefully the Tsunamiball will never be tested in a real-life tsunami scenario (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Hopefully the Tsunamiball will never be tested in a real-life tsunami scenario (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The exterior beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The exterior beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The exterior beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The exterior beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
A section of the boat (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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A section of the boat (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Photo of the interior shell beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Photo of the interior shell beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Could it really survive a tsunami? Hopefully we'll never find out (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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Could it really survive a tsunami? Hopefully we'll never find out (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The inside should have plenty of room for Robinson and his family (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The inside should have plenty of room for Robinson and his family (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The portholes (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The portholes (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The exterior is beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The exterior is beginning to take shape (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The basic interior shell (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The basic interior shell (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The basic interior shell (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The basic interior shell (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The Tsunamiball still very much a work-in-progress, so is in need of an interior (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The designer began the planning process slowly, with some lighthearted conversations between friends detailing what a family would theoretically need to survive a tsunami (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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The designer began the planning process slowly, with some lighthearted conversations between friends detailing what a family would theoretically need to survive a tsunami (Photo: Chris Robinson)
An early sketch of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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An early sketch of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)
An early sketch of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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An early sketch of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)
A model of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)
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A model of the Tsunamiball (Photo: Chris Robinson)

Following the tsunami that hit Japan in March, 2011, designer Chris Robinson was inspired to create an escape pod to ensure he and his family could survive if such a disaster were to occur in his home city of Palo Alto, California. After some two years of painstaking design and construction, his floating off-grid shelter, dubbed Tsunamiball, is nearing completion.

The Tsunamiball brings to mind both the Tsunami House and the Exbury Egg, but while both those projects were designed with input from specialists in their respective fields, Robinson had no prior boat building experience and fly solo on the project.

The planning process began slowly and involved lighthearted conversations between friends, concerning what a family would need to survive during a tsunami. Eventually, Robinson settled on the idea of a floating escape vessel that essentially works as a simple – and hopefully very tough – boat.

Robinson performed all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)
Robinson performed all the work himself (Photo: Chris Robinson)

The actual construction has so far largely involved a process of trial-and-error, with Robinson learning as he goes. The structure measures 6 x 3 x 2.5 m (22 x 10 x 8.5 ft), and the main building material is plywood, as steel was deemed too difficult to work with.

Since the biggest challenge is not the vessel's buoyancy, but ensuring it can withstand the impact of debris, the outer hull comprises 6.4 cm (2.5 inch) thick marine-grade plywood. This plywood is covered by an abrasion-resistant polyester material and joined with epoxy to offer a toughness that Robinson likens to Kevlar.

The floating shelter includes a captain's window and several portholes, and once construction is complete, will feature a total of 60 layers of wood in a bid to ensure durability. Though standard screws were initially used to bring the wood together, they were then removed in favor of plastic staples designed specifically for boat building.

The Tsunamiball is still very much a work in progress, but Robinson informed Gizmag that future plans include flexible solar panels which will be hooked up to an array of seaworthy batteries, an electric motor, and a compostable toilet. In addition, the interior will feature bench seating with five point harnesses that fold into beds, plus some hammock seating. There will also be a small electric stove, kitchen area, and ample storage.

The portholes (Photo: Chris Robinson)
The portholes (Photo: Chris Robinson)

Robinson expects to complete work later this year, and will then test Tsunamiball's efficacy as thoroughly as possible by first floating it in a swimming pool, then dropping it into the ocean for a few hours, moving the structure with the help of a crane and flatbed truck.

Once testing is complete, the plan is for the Tsunamiball to be installed above Robinson's garage, ready for use should the admittedly very unlikely scenario of a tsunami hitting Palo Alto occur. Until then, it will serve as a guest-room and perhaps an AIRbnb too.

We'll check in on Robinson in a few months once he's finished the project. In the meantime, the image gallery details the construction step-by-step, and there are plenty of great blog posts detailing the project on the source link below.

Source: Tsunamiball

15 comments
Jimmy the Geek
Well . . . at least he's not sitting on his couch watching re runs of the Gong Show.
Paul van Dinther
This thing is round right? Capsule shape. I would like to read more about how the designer thinks this vessel will respond when it is hit hard by waves and debris. Clearly this thing won't remain upright when it is shoved along by water over a debris field. It is likely to roll and tumble along, pushed under even although hopefully the buoyancy will keep it float on top of the churning water. Benches won't cut it. The inhabitants will be smashed to pieces inside the intact capsule. I imagine strong tight fitting seats are needed with 5 point harnesses because the occupants will be in for a hell of a ride. A good test would be to throw the capsule into the surf on a beach with 2 meter waves. Let it be pushed and rolled along a bit. No lose items inside and if they test it this way. Please put a GoPro camera inside. Love to see the effect. Ha ha ha
Slowburn
A tough conventional boat looks like a better option but a submersible bunker looks safer as well even if digging out is problematic. just make sure the door opens in and you have good cutting tools.
MrGadget
Another option is to move to a higher place, or be prepared to drive towards higher area.
Dziks
kitchen, toilet, beds,... how long is he planning to drift with tsunami? ridiculous design :) Drop it from Niagara Falls with some G-force sensors mounted inside, that would be interesting. I would rather prefer something more like space capsules rather than this tree house :)
OwkayeGo
If he had used all that time and money to build a BOAT instead of a helpless floating tube he might have actually had something that was useful for the 99.99999% of the time when a tsunami is NOT hitting. Anyone inside that thing he built would be killed or severely injured after rolling around and banging into everything inside. The only way I would ever consider going into something like that would be if it had race car harnesses built into the sides so I could strap myself in -- and of course everything in it would have to be securely attached to the structure as well so it doesn't break off and kill me while I am stuck in the harness. This is one of the most ridiculous wastes of time, money and energy I have ever seen on Gizmag. I sure wish I had had this guy's money to build a boat because I could have built a great one for what this guy has invested already.
Leonard Foster Jr
A sphere would be the best design
the.other.will
Do people actually read before they criticize? "bench seating with five point harnesses". The back seats of ordinary cars are bench seats. Robinson deserves credit for his ability to translate an idea into (hopefully) functioning reality, but it's taking the long way around. It would be easier to accomplish the same thing by starting with a commercially available life raft & reinforcing the hull. That leaves the question of why someone would want something so specialized to begin with. Palo Alto is located on the Bay side of the San Francisco Peninsula.
Reggie McNair
it will take so trial and error, I can see where it may need some add weigh to lower the center of gravity. And could be incorporated to a building design
superman
You are a master craftsman, the detail is outstanding....a yellow paint and play the "Beatles" "yellow submarine" and we're all set ! LOL just kidding, Truly impressive build.