The odds were stacked against Jacksonville, Florida, company UltraTech at the TED conference last week. While other speakers showed off advanced robots, 3-D desktops, and magical glasses, UltraTech co-president Mark Shaw was trying to demonstrate an industrial chemical that protects factory equipment and concrete – not exactly an easy sell in a room full of globe-trotting environmentalists.
UltraTech’s chemical, Ultra-Ever Dry, is actually really cool. It completely repels water and hydocarbons like refined oil from surfaces to which it has been applied, not only protecting things like work boots and electric engines but also making for a fascinating show. A YouTube video of the chemical in action (below) racked up more than 4 million views and won Shaw a last-minute invitation to the TED stage.
But Shaw’s demo nearly ended in disaster. He and his team had coated a canvas with Ultra-Ever Dry such that it would spell out “TED” when paint was poured over the surface. But when he actually threw on the bucket of red goop, only the letters “T” and “E” came clean. Standing nervously on stage before thousands of digerati, he urged organizers to wait for the “D” to emerge as well, but after a nail-biting pause (and some cheering for the missing letter) host Chris Anderson moved on to the next speech.
“My heart was beating out of my chest,” Shaw’s son Matt, an UltraTech marketing coordinator, told me later. “Everybody else felt so bad for us.”
With only 10 days notice to prepare their demo, the Shaws had tested the presentation in their backyard. Each time they threw the paint against the canvas, it would take the “D” a little longer to emerge – but never as long as it did on the TED stage.
Finally, perhaps a minute or two into the next presentation, the red paint started to rapidly recede from the “D” area. The TED lights and cameras came back up just in time to show a perfectly clean letter emerging, and the crowd went wild with applause. TED organizers have since made an animated GIF out of the moment. (Later, UltraTech theorized that the “D” took longer to appear because because the letter took the brunt of the paint volume as it was slopped across the canvas.)
No one wants to walk on the knife’s edge of failure, but the Ultra-Ever Dry presentation was a great reminder that, when it comes to tech demonstrations, it can be much more memorable to stumble and recover than to never stumble at all.