Just in: Patent goes public for another “fan” type airbag backpack. Name on patent, Marc-Antoine Schaer, reveals this is an Alpride project that’s presumably still under the umbrella of Scott.
Big difference from other fan packs, this one has what appears to be super-lightweight capacitors as the power source. Could be yet another game changer.
From the beginning, I’ve wondered why the electric fan airbag packs don’t involve capacitors — which ever since I exploded one in my face as a 10-year-old boy, I’ve known to be quite the amazing devices. They’re like batteries on steroids only without the bulk. They’ll discharge at the high currents used by electric motors (that’s why you find in the motor starters on larger electric tools such as air compressors), and their very nature is to be eminently rechargeable (the proposed capacitors recharge in minutes!). What is more, the patent states their proposed capacitors have something like 500,000 discharge cycles. That’s incredible; a power source that’ll outlast the rucksack itself?
Downside is capacitors don’t hold a charge like a lithium battery does, and they might actually be heavier for a given amount of power. So how will they be an improvement in airbag backpacks? My guess is that first, much of the massive battery weight in current electronic packs (Black Diamond and Arcteryx) is there to provide the high current demanded by the fan motor — as well as cold temperature reserve power. Research tells me that capacitors could virtually eliminate those considerations. Secondly, I’m guessing that the higher passive discharge rate of the capacitors can be mitigated by using a few small disposable “host” batteries as part of the system. Or simply charging more could be all that’s required. Again, if capacitors charge in a few minutes, that opens up all sorts of options for “field” charging, e.g., hooking up to a larger battery pack or photovoltaic system at a hut, inside an aircraft, whatever.
I’ve been guessing-writing-saying every year that we’d see more amazing things coming out in the avy airbag rucksack space. This certainly proves the point. Many questions remain, not the least of which, can I power my coffee maker with it?
The nicely published patent it here. Read through the multiple “description” pages for some truly interesting content about the capacitors, etc.
Here are words from my source on this, lightly edited:
The capacitor system we’re using is insensitive to temperature, it has the same power at -30 oC or at 50 oC, because the energy is stored under electrostatic field, there is no chemical reaction (as batteries are doing) to release the energy. The batteries Lithium-Ion or Lithium-Polymer use a chemical reaction to release energy and power, at very low temperatures the reaction slows down.
Thus, the electric avalanche airbag using traditional batteries has to oversize the battery to have enough energy/power at very low temperatures, for example it can perhaps inflate 14 times at 20 degrees C and perhaps only 1 time after 24 hours at -30 degrees C. With capacitors we don’t need to oversize the power source and can have the “right” size; much lighter than batteries.
The capacitors we’re using have a life time of 500,000 cycles of charge/discharge — infinity compared to batteries which have a lifetime between 3 and 5 years. (WildSnow note, wow.) Moreover as there is no chemical reaction it’s much faster to charge it and can release the power much faster as well.
The capacitors are passive electronics elements and have absolutely no restrictions for travelling, storage and ship by express courier.
For these main reasons, capacitors are the best power source for avalanche airbag: lighter, powerful at all temperatures, infinity lifetime, no travel restriction, ready for internet business. The only disadvantage is the cost, capacitors are expensive!
At this time we’re looking at full system weights around 1180 grams in total (fan/compressor + airbag + trigger)
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WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.