Good Thinking

Gizmag checks out Survival Capsules' tsunami survival pods

Gizmag checks out Survival Cap...
Julian Sharpe, President of Survival Capsule LCC
Julian Sharpe, President of Survival Capsule LCC
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The Survival Capsule prototypes
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The Survival Capsule prototypes
A Survival Capsule prototype
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A Survival Capsule prototype
A sample lining of the Survival Capsule
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A sample lining of the Survival Capsule
Internal frame of the Survival Capsule
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Internal frame of the Survival Capsule
Julian Sharpe, President of Survival Capsule LCC
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Julian Sharpe, President of Survival Capsule LCC
Two-person prototype Survival Capsule with seats
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Two-person prototype Survival Capsule with seats
The Survival Capsules sit on a ring base
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The Survival Capsules sit on a ring base
The Survival Capsule stays upright thanks to a low center of gravity
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The Survival Capsule stays upright thanks to a low center of gravity
Media day for the Survival Capsule
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Media day for the Survival Capsule
The Survival Capsule team
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The Survival Capsule team
The basic Survival Capsule holds two people
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The basic Survival Capsule holds two people
Six-person Survival Capsule
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Six-person Survival Capsule
Top view of six-person Survival Capsule
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Top view of six-person Survival Capsule
The Survival Capsule has an internal steel frame
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The Survival Capsule has an internal steel frame
The Survival Capsule is intended as a flexible personal safety system (PSS)
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The Survival Capsule is intended as a flexible personal safety system (PSS)
Internal detail of a Survival Capsule
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Internal detail of a Survival Capsule

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami that followed count as one of the worst disasters of the 21st century. When it struck off the southern coast of Japan with a force of magnitude 9, it was the most powerful ever to hit Japan, and the tsunami with a maximum height of 40.5 m (133 ft) resulted in 15,885 deaths, 6,148 injured, and 2,623 people missing. In anticipation of a similar disaster, Survival Capsules LCC of Mukilteo, Washington has developed a steel and aircraft-grade aluminum sphere designed to protect against both fire and flood. Gizmag paid a visit to the company to learn more about it.

According to Julian Sharpe, President of Survival Capsules LCC, the tsunami was a terrible learning experience for the Japanese. Tsunami protection had been the responsibility of the central government, but the one-size-fits-all procedures ended up costing thousands of lives. Many areas had safe havens and evacuation towers that turned out to be far too low to ride out the disaster, with people being washed off the roofs of businesses and schools, some three-stories high, where they’d taken refuge.

As a result of this, Japan is moving away from national disaster planning to local planning backed by federal funds. With the rewriting of laws and regulations, Survival Capsule has been involved in both helping to develop these reforms as well as creating a new system that Sharpe says greatly increases the chance of survivors being able to ride out the next tsunami.

The Survival Capsule prototypes
The Survival Capsule prototypes

Sharpe says he came up with the idea for the Survival Capsule while on holiday with his family in the coastal resort town of Cannon Beach, Oregon. With the memory of the Boxing Day tsunami that tore through the Indian Ocean and the East Indies in 2004 still fresh, he saw that the town stretched out along the rugged Pacific coastline was particularly vulnerable.

The steadily rising land at Cannon Beach meant that in the event of tsunami, the water would rise up the hills like water slopping in a bathtub, which made the local plan of running for a safe haven in the center of town highly impractical at best. This is equally true of many places of various topography along coasts all over the world. He hit upon the idea of something more flexible in the form of tethered capsules that could float about the incoming wave and ride out the disaster.

According to Sharpe, the patent-pending personal safety system (PSS) is designed to protect survivors not only in tsunamis, but also hurricanes, storm surges, earthquakes, and tornadoes. It was designed by aircraft engineers in consultation with tsunami experts, such as Dr Eddie Bernard of the University of Washington.

A sample lining of the Survival Capsule
A sample lining of the Survival Capsule

There are currently five versions of the capsule ranging in size from a basic two-person model with a diameter of 4.5 ft (1.4 m) to ones capable of holding 10 adults that have a diameter of 8 ft (2.4 m). Intended for private homes, businesses, schools, airports, and as public shelters, the Survival Capsule differs from similar systems in that it consists of a welded tubular steel frame encased in a spun aluminum hull lined with a ceramic thermal insulation blanket that can be heated to about 2,000° F (1,100° C) and remain cool to the touch on the other side.

The brightly-painted spherical capsule is designed to withstand impacts, especially penetrating ones, and the shape allows it to roll out from beneath debris thanks to 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) of buoyancy. In addition, it can be fitted with one or two windows.

Access to the capsule is by a marine-grade hatch that can be opened from either side, with the outside fitted with a universal marine rescue socket. Inside, there are racing-style seats with full four-point harnesses, water bladders, a GPS locator beacon, storage facilities for food and other survival supplies, and 60 minutes of oxygen for when the naturally aspirated vents are under water. The hull also allows for mobile phone use to communicate with the outside world.

In addition, the capsule weighs only about 300 lb (136 kg), so it’s easy to move. It is also equipped with a hoist point, so it can be recovered by a crane or helicopter, while alow center of gravity ensures that it remains upright. Optional extras include a dry-powder toilet, a music system, and solar panels.

Internal frame of the Survival Capsule
Internal frame of the Survival Capsule

Instead of centralized towers and other evacuation centers, the capsules could be scattered along the coast, with each sitting on a ring base. As the water rises, the tether plays out like the mooring line on a buoy. When the water recedes, it floats back to the ground. If the water gets too deep, the line disengages and the capsule floats to the surface.

One peculiar thing about the Survival Capsule headquarters is that its singularly lacking in capsules. Except for a couple of prototypes, there aren’t any to be seen. Sharpe says that this is because the capsules are sold as kits rather than completed spheres. These are sent to Japan, where they’re assembled by preselected manufacturers as a way to keep the money local. This is also in anticipation of the spheres being built under license in Japan.

The current cost of the spheres is between US$13,00 and $20,000, depending on the place of manufacture and sale, though Sharpe says that his company is looking into cost savings by such means as automation and economies of scale.

The video below shows the development of the Survival Capsule.

More information on the spheres can be found at Survival Capsules.

Survival Capsule LLC - Development of the Survival Capsule

21 comments
ASHDIL
Great stuff!!!....just a suggestion though....if ye inside the Survival Capsule (SC) and it's hit by a tsunami, break free and/or or rolls, etc, do the people within the capsule also roll along????...if that is so there's gonna be alot of chunking going on inside!!!!...so my suggestion...how about encasing this SC in a sort of outer capsule such that it is linked to the the inner SC by way of say, ball bearings such that while the outside turns( as the outside is impacted by external force directions) the SC remains in an upright inner occupants sitting position???. This would help as i see the developers have the centre of gravity issue sorted out. Also, the movement of the outer Skin, so to speak, could be converted into electricity for the occupants such that the air within the capsule can be say, re-oxygenated so as to lengthen the survival period one can remain within the SC. Please keep me informed...could this unit also be used for areas where there is nuclear fall out??
Daishi
One of the problems with tsunami isn't just the destructive force they crush buildings with but as they go back out to sea they pull a lot of the structures and objects with them. Dues this float? The Internet says a tsunami can last 2-3 hours and then you still have the problem of likely ending up in the ocean at the end of the ride. I don't think its a bad idea but it would be a heck of a ride. Even if this thing finishes on the sea floor you could probably put something like an inflatable raft inside it you could use after opening the hatch (which is hopefully not facing directly down) I wonder if there is benefit to making the hatch egg shaped to reduce the likelihood of finishing hatch down?
Tyro
In response to Daishi: The capsule floats and the centre of gravity is situated to keep the unit upright while floating. Also, if you read the article you will learn about the fact that the capsules are designed to be tethered to mitigate the risk of being washed out to sea.
Simon
Daishi, you really need to go back and read the whole article again before posting and then you would know it floats and it also floats upright.
Jamie Lill
Its to small!
Jay Finke
My concern is what happens when it gets trapped in debris, it would like being buried alive, only your just curled up in a ball, or being cooked in the ball in the hot sun, waiting for rescue. just have carrots and potatoes as rations in the ball, and you got people stew. I could think of better ways to go.
Kristianna Thomas
The threat of tsunamis is a very real thing in and around the ring of fire, and the loss of life is great for there not to be a solution. In the US, outside the Pacific coastal regions, we have a greater threat from hurricanes and tornadoes; if these capsules can survive a tsunami it should be able to handle a EF 5 tornado or hurricane. Has there been any thought about selling these capsules to communities in the Hurricane Alley? if it could save lives there; it should be able to save live here.
Leonard Foster Jr
Hmmm i am thinking spacecraft with some mods ; )
Larry Pines
How about a radio transponder - so IF it IS washed out to sea rescuers can locate it? Looks a bit like the escape pods used by Donald Pleasance in 'Escape from NY' and James Bond's 'You Only Live Twice'.
paulinsf
Considering that debris from the Fukishima earthquake was washing ashore on the US west coast as recently as this spring, tethered or not, I can't help envision these pods breaking free and taking the same length of time to cross the ocean with their hapless occupants.