Local company designing tsunami survival capsule

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 22, 2011

Above is a concept illustration of the tsunami survival capsule designed by the Mukilteo-based IDEA International Inc. The capsule could help save the lives of millions worldwide from the devastation of tsunamis and superstorms.

A local aerospace engineering company is designing a capsule that would help people survive a tsunami by riding it rather than running from it.

IDEA International Inc.  (Innovative Design, Engineering and Analysis) in downtown Mukilteo is developing a Tsunami Survival Capsule that could potentially save the lives of millions globally from the devastation of a tsunami.

After the recent tsunami in Japan, engineers at IDEA Inc. decided to try designing a capsule that would protect people from tsunamis, floods or super storms – and especially when running to higher ground is not an option.  

“The Japanese tsunami made me realize that we need to put pencil to paper, because maybe the old philosophy of run is out of date,” said Julian Sharpe, president and CEO of IDEA Inc.

Recent studies show that increasing populations in coastal areas will expose 2.75 billion people worldwide to the effects of rising sea levels and other coastal threats caused by global warming, Sharpe said.

With the capsule, “you’d be able to protect your own family rather than rely on the government and rely on the tsunami routes… where you would be at the mercy of massing crowds,” he said.  

The capsule is shaped like a sphere and is designed to seat four or more 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.

Some versions would be more affordable than others. The cheapest capsule is estimated to cost under $1,000.

“We have a lot of tools at our disposal to make it work,” said Scott Hill, director of engineering at IDEA Inc.  “Since we come from the aircraft background, we’re very well-versed in creating these types of structures.”

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.

Bright colors and attached emergency beacons, transponders and hooks for helicopter pick-up would be added to aid in recovery.  The capsule could be tethered using a metered steel cable.

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

“Hopefully, it will help humanity if we get it to work,” Hill said. “Even if we save one life, it’s worth it.”

Ideally, the capsule would be mass-produced and manufactured using 80 percent recycled materials, making them affordable even to people in third-world countries.

Saving lives would also save money, by reducing search-and-rescue efforts after a tsunami, Sharpe said. Thus, resources could be directed instead toward cleanup, reconstruction or prevention, he said.

The design for the capsule is entered into the annual NASA: Tech Briefs “Create the Future” contest, which recognizes innovations in product design. The grand prize is $20,000.

Engineers at IDEA Inc. are analyzing capsule designs, and considering hundreds of scenarios involving the initial impact of a tsunami, collisions with storm debris, penetration from sharp objects and more.

“Hopefully, by the time we’ve designed it, we will have encapsulated all of that,” Sharpe said.  “No pun intended.”

With further funding, IDEA Inc. can start certification testing a prototype of the design.

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

Nothing like it has ever been designed before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to create a tsunami-proof capsule, Hill said.  He said a patent on the capsule design is pending.

“If you can devise something that can fly to the moon, or you can devise something that can go to the deepest trenches in the sea,” Sharpe said, “then you can devise something that can withstand a tsunami.”

Vote for the Tsunami Survival Capsule in the NASA Tech Briefs contest at http://contest.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/1472.

For more on IDEA International Inc. go to the company’s website at www.idea-international.net.

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