Blind Worcester-based engineer creates electric jet ski

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Blind Worcester-based engineer creates electric jet ski
Representatives from eSKI unveiled their first-generation electric jet ski prototype at the event. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

SHREWSBURY – There was plenty to celebrate on June 27 as community members and local political leaders gathered on the shore of Lake Quinsigamond. 

At Shrewsbury’s Corazzini Boat Ramp, eSKI – a company founded and led by blind engineer Jack Duffy-Protentis – unveiled and demonstrated one of the world’s first electric jet skis.

Jack Duffy-Protentis

In the third grade, Duffy-Protentis received news that would change his life: he had been diagnosed with Stargardt disease. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the disease “causes vision loss in children and young adults.” Duffy-Protentis eventually lost his central vision, and while the blindness was an obstacle, he didn’t let it stop him.

“It had an impact on me,” Duffy-Protentis told the crowd of roughly 75 people at the boat ramp. “It gave me the drive. I would think ‘I can do anything anybody else can – I just have to find my own path.’ I think that sort of pushed me to the place where I am right now.”

Duffy-Protentis became involved with robotics in high school, eventually captaining the team, and later studied mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).  

Duffy-Protentis was interested in cars before his blindness – he characterized himself as a “car guy” – but being unable to drive he turned his attention to recreational vehicles. Duffy-Protentis said that vehicles allowed him to explore the world and gave him “great appreciation for nature,” but as he got older, he came to realize that the gas-guzzling vehicles were actually damaging the plants and wildlife. 

He decided to do something about it. 

While still at WPI, Duffy-Protentis had the idea to create an environmentally friendly aquatic vehicle: an electric jet ski. After nearly two years of work, he formed an LLC, hired a “fantastic” team and turned his idea of electric jet skis into a career.

“WPI was a big factor in [my life],” he said, “because they gave me the leadership skills that I need – as well as the creativity and the drive – to create this new product.”

Blind Worcester-based engineer creates electric jet ski
Jack Duffy-Protentis speaks to the crowd to announce the company’s new electric jet ski. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Inventing the jet ski

Duffy-Protentis headquartered his company in an old wire factory in Worcester, and he hopes his success can spark new industry and manufacturing in the city. 

“Worcester has been a very big part of my life, and I’m hoping that with the creation of all of this we can bring jobs back to Worcester and Central Massachusetts – we can bring technology back to Worcester,” he said.

Rep. Jim McGovern was thankful eSKI chose to call Worcester home.

“Thank you for choosing Worcester and Central Massachusetts as the place where you want to develop this technology. You could’ve located this company anywhere, but you recognized that Central Massachusetts has some of the smartest STEM students in the world and that consumers in Massachusetts get it – we’re all in on sustainable businesses,” he said.

McGovern also noted how Duffy-Protentis overcame adversity to create his product.

“Anybody – no matter what challenges they face – can succeed and do incredible things,” he said. “We’re doubly celebrating today because of Jack’s accomplishments.”

The watercraft is driven by a 320-horsepower electric motor and powered by 400-volt lithium-ion batteries. The batteries last over an hour, and one of the company’s three patents allows for an innovative “hot-swapping battery system,” which allows users to quickly change their batteries. 

Community leaders, including Worcester city councilors, Mayor Joseph Petty and Shrewsbury Assistant Town Manager Keith Baldinger, were in attendance to witness the speed and power of the jet ski. 

The jet ski is significantly quieter and creates less pollutants than gas-powered vehicles.  

“This could be a game-changer for all the lakes in Worcester, the state, and hopefully nationally,” Petty said.

Although eSKI has one competitor in Canada, Duffy-Protentis is confident that his company will succeed. The company recently started allowing pre-orders of their watercraft, and hopes to manufacture at least 250 units by the end of 2024. From there, eSKI hopes to double its output every year. 

The company currently anticipates vehicles will cost $25,000. Duffy-Protentis explained that while eSKI’s watercraft will be slightly more expensive than most gas-powered competitors, owners won’t have to worry about winterization, significant maintenance costs or fuel and gas bills with the electric vehicle. The eSKI watercraft would likely end up saving customers money in the long run, he said. 

eSKI has already received more than $500,000 in start-up funding and $300,000 in pre-orders.

Local lawmakers pledged to support the company in the future.

“We will be [the] wind at your back,” McGovern said. “Anything we can do at the local, state, and federal level… we will be there for you.”

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