The outcome of a protective gear research project. After flexing my research muscle through interviews, field observation, market analysis, extensive literature review and incidence reports, the issue came into focus. In survivable seaplane incidents over water passengers often egress the plane without a life preserver. Drowning is the leading cause of death in this situation, and even in the event of a successful initial egress, drowning can occur when occupants attempt to reach stowed life preservers in the cabin rear and under seats.
“We want to find people and the chance of their survival without the life jacket is very poor,”
Bill Yearwood, regional manager of aviation for the Transportation Safety Board.
The issue becomes more complex when you take into account the range of aircraft configurations flying in any given fleet. My findings suggest that what you see in the flotation device information kiosk, the safety pamphlet, or instructional video is not always the same as what you find in your aircraft. Likely, after enduring a sudden crash, your ability to locate and retrieve a vest is impaired.
The challenge of a contextual solution
My challenge was to find a realistic and deployable method of addressing this problem considerate of the variety of operating aircraft, human nature, and economic reality.
What if we reposition the life preserver in such a way that it is intuitive to grab when exiting the craft after an emergency? It should be easy to hold on to during egress and thus still in your possession upon surfacing.
The concept of an obvious and graspable life vest pouch changes the aesthetic of the plane. It reminds passengers of the ever present danger and the worst case scenario. For that reason this would appeal to safety leaders in passenger transportation and commercial float operations.
Made to stick.
This is an obvious and graspable life vest pouch for airline style life preservers, like those found on commercial seaplanes. The key difference between my design and current pouches is the positioning. Using two adhesives, the pouch containing an inflatable vest can be attached on any surface of an aircraft (e.g., headliner, door, seat, wall panel etc.) but peeled off like a turbo Post-it note during egress. To give greater control over the adhesive interface, a fluorescent coloured backing is adhered to the pouch itself. That backing is mounted to aircraft surfaces and in this case could also be an arrow pointing to the nearest exit.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The bright coloured pouch ensures passengers have noticed its location throughout the flight, and can recall that even when they are disoriented. A wooden beaded handle provides excellent tactile feedback and graspability as your extremities react to frigid water.
If it don't make dollars...
I then refined the design to the point of brilliant simplicity (read: really simple), because current pouches are light and manufacturable. I optimized the pattern for high-yield and minimal waste cutting. This part of the process felt like my own undoing as I simplified and reduced the deliverable of a major project. But it was the only way the solution would be realistic and deployable for commercial applications. I used ultrasonic welding technology but in production an RF-welding form would be ideal.
Having had some time to reflect I believe the strength of this outcome is not the object itself, but the question raised by the solution - will a more apparent and immediate positioning increase the likelihood that a passenger will grab the vest? If it did, than that would definitely save lives.
Special thanks to everyone who contributed to my research. Your insights were invaluable.