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Volume 86 Issue 21 | p. 56 | Newscripts
Issue Date: May 26, 2008

Newscripts

Department: Newscripts

Advertising Infiltrates New Overhead Territory

May has been a banner month for Brian Glover, a North Carolina dentist-by-day and inventor-by-night, and partner Francisco Guerra, an Alabama-based special effects expert who is a go-to guy if you need vast amounts of foam or fake snow on, say, your movie set. The duo had recently floated a press release to roll out their new high-flying invention, featuring a mix of chemistry and materials innovation they hope will open up a vast overlooked aerial niche suitable, they say, for an almost lofty form of advertising. The next thing they knew, an Associated Press article about their scheme was making the global rounds. Then came calls from TV producers, including ones for the "Today Show" and the "Ellen DeGeneres Show." And of course the blogosphere's blather started to proliferate, in all of its incestuous, plagiaristic ways.

It's been enough to make the two entrepreneurs light-headed with expectation. "Everybody's calling," Guerra gushes, to C&EN.

He and Glover call their LIGHTER-THAN-AIR product Flogos, a combination of the words "floating" and "logos." Think Mickey Mouse heads the size of pillows hovering over Anaheim and 4-foot Nike swooshes in sports arenas. Neither Glover, who has a B.S. in chemistry, nor Guerra would reveal the exact composition of their novel form of aerial commerce, what will be visual pollution to some, no doubt, but they make it sound a whole lot like soap suds.

It all began late last millennium, Glover says, when he went too heavy on the detergent while washing dishes. Apparently, he jerked a pot downward in such a way that a wad of suds went airborne. What made Glover wide-eyed at this otherwise supremely mundane domestic moment was that the sud wad, before it pop-pop-popped into surfactant remains, had kept the shape of the pot. At that moment, Glover unwittingly had made the Flogo prototype.

This is about where Guerra comes in to the Flogo story. He and Glover had gotten to know each other at the annual meetings of the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAPPA). There, Guerra would peddle his foam-based "snow making" machines, and Glover would sell an earlier invention of his, what he describes as "the world's most powerful bubble machine."

"We are both bubble oriented," Guerra says of his intermittent IAPPA reunions with Glover. "We became great friends."

So when Glover had his kitchen-sink epiphany, he knew whom to call. "I said, "Well, what if we try to make the foam lighter than air,' " Glover recalls of his conversation with Guerra.

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Thus began seven years of R&D, which owes plenty of its apparent success to Glover's wife, Angela, who is a B.S. biochemist and former cosmetic chemist. She's the one who came up with what her husband touts as the safe, cosmetics-grade, surfactant-based, foam-making formula that is the stuff of Flogos.

The project entailed some materials engineering challenges and technology development. "We wanted something that would hold its mass and would be extrudable" through dies, particularly ones of logo shapes associated with big-pocketed Fortune 500 companies, Guerra says. "Getting the machinery together and things like specialized motors, heads, controls, and software" also took some doing, he adds.

The role of the software is to help Guerra and Glover convert client-supplied image files of shapes or logos into operating commands for a computer numerical control machine that routs out a correspondingly shaped plastic Flogo stencil. Among the controls are ones that can generate just the right mix of, say, compressed air and helium, to form foam shapes that will float anywhere from tens of feet in the air to thousands, a height at which they surely lose their naked-eye advertising value. When running at full tilt, the large-appliance-sized machines can spit out a new Flogo about every 10 seconds.

Guerra and Glover claim that their Flogos, which can last for hours, carry no health or environmental concerns and that their near nothingness makes them less hazardous to aircraft than helium-filled balloons. We can only hope.

The early responses are uplifting, Guerra says. "This guy in New York City bought four units, and he is putting one at each corner at the top of his parking garage," he offers as an example.

 

This week's column was written by Ivan Amato. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

 
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