Survival capsule almost ready for Japan

By Sara Bruestle | Jan 16, 2013
Courtesy of: IDEA Inc. Aaron Acklen, Anthony Figlioli and Julian Sharpe of the Mukilteo-based IDEA International Inc. are part of a team that designed a survival capsule that could help save the lives of millions worldwide from the devastation of tsunamis and superstorms.

After two years designing a capsule to help people survive a tsunami, a team of aerospace engineers has a prototype ready to ship to Japan.

Engineers from IDEA International Inc. in Mukilteo have developed a Survival Capsule that could potentially save the lives of millions globally from the devastation of a tsunami or other natural disaster by riding it rather than running from it.

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, engineers Julian Sharpe and Scott Hill decided to try designing a device that would protect people from tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and superstorms. Local companies have built their prototype to be tested and manufactured.

“People are used to running [from tsunamis] and fleeing to get to high ground, but in a lot of areas you don’t have that option,” said Sharpe, president and CEO of IDEA Inc. “In that case, you should ride it out.”

The sphere-shaped capsule is designed to seat 2-10 people inside. Versions of the capsule include a fixed or rotating interior. With a rotating interior, occupants maintain an upright seating position within the shell.

The company has two prototypes: One capsule will be shipped to Japan today for a disaster preparedness exposition, the other will stay here and undergo testing in an aerospace lab starting next week. Both capsules are two-seaters.

The prototypes were built by Omnifab in Auburn, Wash. and painted by Coatings Unlimited in Kent, Wash.

If testing goes well, Sharpe and Hill plan to ride the capsule over Palouse Falls to prove their faith in their company’s design. Four extra seats would be available to the public by lottery.

“We are correlating the analysis with the tests,” Sharpe said. “Any lessons learned, any improvements that we can make we will feed back into the design.”

The engineers have founded a new company, Survival Capsule LCC, also in Mukilteo. IDEA Inc. is the parent company. They said their team has the expertise to understand the threat of disaster, quantify it, and then design a “shelter” strong enough to withstand it.

“It’s what we do in our everyday jobs, is try to think of every eventuality that might happen to a particular part and design for it,” said Scott Hill, director of engineering at IDEA Inc. “We’re doing the same thing for this capsule.”

Also on their team is tsunami expert Dr. Eddie Bernard, who is a consultant for issues dealing with tsunami warning systems, tsunami mitigation and education programs, and tsunami research.

A Japanese manufacturing company is scheduled to start producing the capsules this year in Japan. It also has plans to produce them in China and Thailand.

Sharpe and Hill targeted Japan’s market because it is a world leader in tsunami preparedness and early warning systems, but eventually their plan is to make the capsules available all over the world.

“There are 135 countries in the world who are exposed to the dangers of tsunami,” Sharpe said. “The potential for saving lives is enormous, really. If Scott and I can save just a couple of lives, we would be happy.”

A number of companies – several in Japan and another in Washington state – “have tried to jump the gun on us” and have made similar devices that aren’t as safe, he said. A patent on the Survival Capsule design is pending.

The engineers have analyzed capsule designs and considered hundreds of scenarios, including the initial impact of a tsunami, collisions with storm debris and penetration from sharp objects.

“We’ve made many upgrades to the design to reduce the cost and complexity and increase safety,” Hill said. “A lot of the upgrades we have are for safety, which includes windows and improved seating.”

Some versions would be more affordable than others. The cheapest capsule is estimated to cost around $1,000, Hill said. Others could be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, he said.

Other design features include watertight doors, seats with five-point harness belts and head restraints, and a thermal blanket between the inner and outer shells in case of fire.

The capsules are bright orange and have emergency beacons, transponders and hooks for helicopter pick-up attached to them to aid in recovery. They can also be tethered using a metered steel cable.

Storage compartments underneath each seat hold life vests, food and water rations, a first aid kit, flashlights and air supply.

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