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waterfall swing from cleveland-area innovators turns heads across the globe

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 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 have an impressive background 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.”
Though their initial application to receive funding for their idea from Burning Man failed, they continued their pursuit steadfast. “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 Development complex. “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’ll be stopping by NBC’s Today Show then it’s on to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, July 12 through 14.
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.”
Source: Ian Charnas
Writer: Joe Baur
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