A Design Inspired by Death: A Self-Inflating Vest for Freedivers


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Jacob Beck-Jaffurs. Photo: Professional Pathways

On Friday, March 11, 2011, 24-year-old freediver Jacob Beck-Jaffurs was found unconscious on the ocean floor by a dive partner off the coast of Kawera Island, New Zealand. He had been spearfishing when he suffered a shallow water blackout and drowned. His friend brought him to the surface and administered CPR, but it was too late. He was pronounced dead on shore near Pilot Bay, about nine miles away. “The world has just lost a wonderful young man who would have made a great doctor,” his father told the New Zealand Herald.

Revival Vest. Photo: James Dyson Award

Beck-Jaffurs died on the final day of a six-week internship at Tauranga Hospital while in the last year of medical school at Auckland University. He was an experienced surfer and freediver and in excellent shape, according to his mother. Aside from spending time in the ocean and in medical school, he had co-founded a non-profit called Professional Pathways that sought to give poor students with fewer opportunities mentoring so they could chase careers in medicine, engineering, and law. In short, he was an active and inspiring young man who did what he could to help others.

After his death, a friend set about designing an auto-inflating vest for freedivers to honor him. The James Dyson Award has nominated 22-year-old James McNab's invention as one of 15 finalists in its 2012 design competition. The winner will be announced on November 8.

Revival Vest. Photo: James Dyson Award

McNab, a graduate of Victoria University who studied industrial design, invented the prototype Revival Vest as a way for a freediver, or any other ocean athlete, who blacks out to be automatically brought to the surface.

The vest is made up of two parts. The first part is a chest strap that wraps around a diver's torso with smart fabric technology that can monitor a diver's breathing. A wireless transmitter is attached to the strap. The second part is a vest that goes over a diver's wet suit. It contains a CO2 canister, inflatable pouches, and a wireless receiver.

The smart fabric in the strap measures the stretch around the chest as a diver breathes. If the diver stops breathing and his or her body goes limp, a signal goes off in the wireless transmitter. The wireless receiver captures the signal and sends a message to puncture a CO2 canister in the vest. The air inflates pouches around the diver's neck and in front the diver's sternum, floating him or her back up to the surface. The pouches have been placed in those locations in order to limit the water that can enter the lungs and to make the diver more visible to others at the surface.

Revival Vest. Photo: James Dyson Award

The vest is one way a friend is honoring Beck-Jaffurs. A number of other friends have set up The Jacob Beck-Jaffurs Memorial Scholarship through Professional Pathways. It's an award that will help lower-income students in New Zealand chase their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

H/T: The Dominion Post

—Joe Spring