1st survival capsule ships to Japan

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 19, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Julian Sharpe and Randy Miller check on Duane Cambre seated inside the first production-ready Survival Capsule at Lighthouse Park on June 12. Cambre is visiting from Wichita, Kansas. “It looks like a real moneymaker for Mukilteo,” he said.

The first of many capsules designed by a team of local aerospace engineers to help people survive a tsunami has shipped to Japan.

The bright orange SC2001 Tsunami Survival Capsule was shipped to Tokyo on June 13, after its debut at Lighthouse Park on June 12.

Survival Capsule LLC and IDEA International Inc. in Mukilteo have received 10 capsule orders as of Monday. Three will go to Toho Mercantile Co., and seven will go to other companies.

“It’s tremendously exciting,” said Julian Sharpe, president and CEO of IDEA Inc. “So far it’s been picking up a lot of momentum.

“[It] looks like the National Geographic are after us, and the Discovery Channel.”

Four engineers, with the help of a tsunami expert, 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, the engineers decided to try designing a device that would protect people from tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and superstorms.

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

The sphere is made with a tubular aluminum skeleton clad in 5000-series aluminum skin, which Sharpe said is proven to handle impacts well, dissipate heat quickly and won’t rust.

The first production-ready capsule, a two-seater, was built by D&D Welding in Mukilteo and painted by Coatings Unlimited in Kent, Wash.

A Japanese manufacturer will build and paint the other nine capsules – as well as any future orders. Eventually, the plan is to make the capsules available all over the world.

“Capsules for the home (U.S.) market shall be made in Mukilteo,” Sharpe said.

Several “copy cats” in Japan and two in Washington state have made similar devices that the Mukilteo team says aren’t as safe. A patent on the Survival Capsule is pending.

“The Japanese have done testing on another design from Washington,” said Scott Hill, director of engineering at IDEA Inc. “It started filling up with water. They didn’t like the fact that it was made out of plastic (fiber-reinforced plastic).”

Sharpe and Hill plan to ride the capsule over Palouse Falls to prove their faith in their company’s design.

The capsules are priced starting at $12,000 to $15,000, depending on options.

The engineers are now finishing the designs that seat four, six, eight and 10 people.

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 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.

IDEA Inc. (Innovative Design, Engineering and Analysis) is an aerospace engineering company that specializes in stress analysis, fatigue and damage tolerance, test support, design and certification support. It is the parent company of Survival Capsule LCC.

On the Survival Capsule team are engineers Julian Sharpe, Scott Hill, Anthony Figlioli and Aaron Acklen, and tsunami expert Dr. Eddie Bernard.

The SC2001 capsule is on its way to a disaster preparedness expo in Sendai, near the epicenter of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

At Lighthouse Park last week, the engineers showed the capsule to Iwao Iwama, managing director of Toho Mercantile Co. and any curious passersby who wanted a look – or a seat – inside the “shelter.”

Randy Miller, of Mukilteo, a fan of the Survival Capsule, was at the debut. He said he’s followed the team’s progress ever since the first story in The Beacon.

“It was impressive to see somebody put so much thought into creating a survival capsule for a tsunami,” Miller said. “It was intriguing.”

Miller was one of several at the beach to sit inside the orange sphere for a photo op. He said it was an interesting experience – though he admits he was feeling a little claustrophobic.

“I’m like, ‘I hope nobody closes the door while I’m in here.’”

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