Thursday, November 29, 2007

Design for safety...the case of the Dragon Boaters

I've read with sadness the death of 5 of my countrymen, dragon boaters who were dedicated and passionate to their sport, but whose lives were taken away so sudden, and so young! What saddens me perhaps is the fact that their death could have been prevented quite easily..perhaps! The news reported that, and this were later corroborated by the other team members, that the team decided not to wear the safety jackets because firstly, the weather was fine and the conditions in the river was calm enough. Being experienced boaters themselves, nobody would have doubted that decision. And perhaps to make their winning form and combination better, the other reason given was because the life jackets would actually slow down or impede their rowing. At this juncture I would just like to stop commenting on their decisions, because it was a judgement call that they make collectively as a team, and who are we to question that. What I am more concerned, as an educator in design, is that, isn't there any better designs of life jackets being done anywhere in the world!

I can still remember all the lifejackets that I've worn, or at least would have worn should things turn unfavourable, and I can say that at most, I think the ones that gives me the greatest comfort was the one that I wore during one of my reservist or is it NSF training...the one where the life jacket is relatively small and handy, and is actually activated using a small gas canister. Besides that, the usual life jackets that I've work and seen, are perhaps the older design that is relatively cumbersome to put on, and is in fact more geared towards just allowing the person wearing it to have his head be placed above the water level, and nothing else. In fact it can get quite cumbersome that I don't think it is that manouverable at all. The last that I wore was during my reservist training last year, you know the one where you have to manually blow it up, and my goodness, it was so stiff! Makes me wonder what would happen if we are caught in a firefight while wearing that awful and stiff life jacket around our shoulders!

I mean after all this while, isn't there like a jacket that can be worn by water sportsman like the canoeists and dragon boaters, that would not impede their rowing action. Maybe perhaps, with our more advanced knowledge on ergonomics, anthropometrics and materials engineerings, we might even be able to put forth one that would in fact be aiding the boaters in their competition, rather than impede them. Good and strategic placement of sensors would help to ensure that the floatation capability of the life jacket would be activated once it is submerged in water! Think of how the air bags in the car is activated within microseconds of a collision, and you would know what I mean. And how about an adjustable floation capability, one that would allow the jacket to fit within the weight and body size limits of the user, regardless whether the guy is a 150kg sumo wrestler, or a 5 year old child! Impossible you say! Think of Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs), and I think it would be a possibility sooner than you think.

And how about other life-saving or even life-prolonging capabilities of the jacket! Luminous coloured that is adjustable to the light and water-colour conditions of where the user is wearing it. An automatic beacon in each lifejacket...especially for those ocean going vessels! (Think the Titanic!) And how about temperature controllet, or shark repeller, or portable desalination device, or a full bodied life jacket, for those who are incapacitated or suffering from hydrophobia, and needs the assurance of having their entire bodies above the water level! The list goes on endlessly indeed.

My point here is that if only we could do a better job designing better life jackets, to keep pace mankind's pursuits, I do think that the 5 lives can be saved on that day!

No comments: