Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Unique Type of Fire Escape

Burning Ambitions:A Russian-Designed System for Surviving Fires in Tall Buildings

The Economist
June 25, 2005

THE Paris air show is a notoriously chaotic affair. This year's, which finished on June 19th, was no different from usual. But in a quiet corner of the show, a new way of clocking up air miles was to be found. It looks like a small, orange, inflatable swimming pool with a pointy underside. And strapped inside it is a Biggles-like doll complete with goggles, moustache and flying scarf. It is an escape-pod for people trapped in tall, burning buildings. And it is the product of the Lavochkin Association, an aerospace firm based in Khimki, near Moscow.

There is, at the moment, no convenient way to leave a tall building if the emergency staircases are on fire and the fire brigade has not arrived or its ladders will not reach. Nor are conventional parachutes an answer. As is well known to participants in the sport of Base Jumping (a mind-bogglingly dangerous activity that involves parachuting from static objects), parachutes have problems when launched from tall buildings. For a start, they may not have time to open properly. Even if they do, they can get snagged on the way down. And on top of that, if a building is burning they are liable to catch fire. Hence the Lavochkin escape pod—or "rescue system", as the firm prefers to call it.

According to Yuri Boulanov, one of Lavochkin's representatives at the air show, the idea is to create a cheap, inflatable structure that can be compressed into a backpack, like a parachute. The pod is designed with an inflatable tube around its edges, which should cause it to bounce off the walls of a building. And the final version will be made from some, as yet unspecified, fire-retardant material. As a bonus, and unlike a parachute, it will operate safely from altitudes of five metres and above—which would make it suitable even for the top floors of houses.

In an emergency, someone wishing to leave in a hurry would strap on the backpack and jump, pulling a ring as he did so. The pod would inflate, surround him instantly and bear him gently to the ground. At least, that is what happens to the digital simulation in the company's promotional video.

The pod on display at Lavochkin's stand was actually a one-metre diameter prototype. The full-scale device, currently undergoing tests with a sensor-loaded dummy as its passenger—is six metres across and should be able to carry someone weighing up to 120kg. Mr Boulanov says the commercial version should cost around $1,000.

If it all sounds unlikely, it is worth remembering that it is now possible to lob a spacecraft all the way to Mars and have it land safely using an inflatable shell similar to Lavochkin's. Now all that is needed is some way of getting through the sealed windows with which most tall building are glazed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Congrats to Dana and David!!!!  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Whew! I'm finally back in DC after a great time in Florida, enjoying Dana and David's wedding as well as spending some wonderful time with Symi, but the process of getting there and back was exhausting.

Going: My first flights (I had to change planes in Atlanta) hit major snags and ended up sitting on the tarmac for hours on end in the middle seat of the very last row of the plane. I finally got where I needed to go at 3AM when I was supposed to arrive at about 10:30PM.

Returning: After being delayed over 45 minutes on the train to Fort Lauderdale Int'l Airport, my flight was cancelled after three hours of them pushing back the departure time. Since it was the last flight of the night, they were legally responsible for putting people up for the night since the reason for the cancellation was that their crew would have been on the job beyond the federal time limit. Still, they refused to pay for hotel or ground transportation. I had to spring for both and wait for the 5:30p flight the next day-- thankfully I got on to the 1:10p flight as a standby and finally got home at about 4pm.

US Air is going to hear from me.