Beam Me Out: Ball State Students Working on Life-Saving Technology

First responders — and more importantly, car accident victims — may soon be benefiting dramatically from a device designed by Ball State students that will help cut down on the time it takes for emergency crews to remove drivers from impacted vehicles. Check out this enlightening article from Emergency Management:

Two students at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., are working on commercializing a battery-operated laser cutter that could help first responders shave minutes off the time it takes to free someone trapped in a crashed vehicle. The students, Adam Odgaard and John Benjamin, say the device is quieter and generates fewer sparks than hydraulic cutters currently used by rescue workers.

The tool, dubbed the Beam of Life Device (BOLD), can cut 300 feet of half-inch-thick steel in six minutes on a single battery charge. Odgaard said he and Benjamin found that an average extrication takes nine to 15 minutes. Odgaard said the BOLD could be at least three minutes faster than that. A proposed backpack design could help rescuers get into tighter spaces than hydraulic tools.

The current prototype, a desktop model, was developed by Tim Bradley, an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind. The next step is for Odgaard and Benjamin to secure funding to develop a smaller prototype in which the power supply fits in a 50-pound backpack connected to a wand that a firefighter could operate single handedly. The target weight for the device is comparable to the weight of similar tools on the market, such as the Hurst Jaws of Life line of tools, to which the BOLD is being positioned as an alternative. 

“You have to be able to get the shears in there, and then when the shears are going it will work against you and tire out most of the rescue responders trying to cut through steel,” Benjamin said. With the BOLD, “you don’t have to create an entry for your cutters to be placed inside the vehicle.”

The BOLD also does away with carbon dioxide emissions so rescue workers won’t have exhaust from the device blowing back at them. 

Odgaard and Benjamin, who both study entrepreneurship, expect development of a smaller prototype to take about six months. That will be followed by a year of testing and evaluation with fire departments. The BOLD could be available for purchase by the end of 2012.