RICHMOND — Rod Livingston of Richmond is hoping to become flush with success.
Livingston is the inventor of Dry-Flush, an odorless, waterless toilet designed for use in RVs and boats, now being manufactured in Connecticut and sold by distributors around the world. Livingston and his business partner have applied for patents for the toilet, the only waterless unit that has both flushing action and a bagging system for waste.
Though he has launched about a dozen products over the years, "this is the first one that looks like it's really going to take off," Livingston told the Palladium-Item.
"There have to be a lot of things that fall into place just right" for an invention to succeed, he said. Not only does the product have to work, it has to be easy and cost-effective to build. In addition, there must be a need for the product, a market and the opportunity to take advantage of that market.
"The toilet is hitting all of these things right now," Livingston said.
Livingston majored in physics in college then went into the service. After he got out, his first job was with Discovision, a company that was working on a product that eventually became the compact disc. "We just invented stuff right and left."
Livingston hadn't thought of himself as an inventor before that, but "you just sort of get sucked into it. ... Of course, I had the facility for it, too," he said.
His work with CDs brought Livingston to Richmond to work with Cinram. When that work ended, he started his own company developing optical instruments, then went to work for an optical instrument company in Dayton, Ohio. When that work ended, the idea for Dry-Flush emerged.
Livingston had long been interested in owning an RV, but the self-proclaimed "geeky engineer" wanted to build rather than buy one. "I don't ever buy something I think I can make myself," he said.
As he began researching RVs, Livingston said, he discovered the toilet systems were "pretty awful" — especially their smell. He was convinced he could do better.
The idea to use air pressure to create the flush that sends waste into a bag came to him pretty quickly. Making sure the bag didn't stink took much longer. "I spent most of a year experimenting," Livingston said.
Then he remembered working with metallic film while at Discovision. If adding a single layer of aluminum molecules to a bag could keep moisture out, maybe it would keep the smell in. It worked.
"That was an ah-hah moment," Livingston remembers.
The waste bag "keeps the odor in, just like a package of tuna or potato chips," he said. "Nothing can get through a very thin layer of metal like that."
Livingston teamed with Bob Roczynski, a former business partner who has a manufacturing facility in Hamden, Conn., to start Dry-Flush as a business.
Since the company started about a year ago, some 300 Dry-Flush toilets have been built and about 200 sold. "It's getting attention from the boating industry, RVs, airplanes," said Livingston. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. is interested in using them in their custom helicopters.
The partners are working to get the cost of the toilets down. A unit costs $420 and replacement cartridges come in packs of three for $49.
Their other big challenge is marketing. "The bigger issue than trying to create something like this is trying to sell it," Livingston said.
Investing the time and energy into an invention is stressful, Livingston said. "When you're developing something like this, it's like you're in panic mode all the time.
"To me, it's like climbing a mountain. You're risking a lot. The chance of success is low. But that's what creates the excitement."
In spite of the stress, Livingston has some simple words of advice for anyone who has an idea for an invention: "Do it. Go build one."