By Kurt Batdorf The Herald Business Journal
MUKILTEO — Two years ago, aerospace engineers Julian Sharpe and Scott Hill were working on a design for a tsunami survival capsule after witnessing the damage inflicted by a massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on Japan’s east coast.
Recently, Sharpe, Hill and partners Anthony Figlioli and Aaron Acklen of Survival Capsule and IDEA International introduced the first production version of the bright-orange SC2001 tsunami survival capsule at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park and delivered it to Iwao Iwama, managing director of Toho Mercantile Co. in Tokyo.
Sharpe is president and CEO of Survival Capsule as well as IDEA International, a Mukilteo aerospace and structural engineering firm.
The two-seat SC2001 is a sphere of a tubular aluminum clad in 5000-series aluminum skin. In designing the prototype, Sharpe and Hill reasoned that a sphere would have the best chance of surviving a tsunami because a round object will bounce off solid items such as buildings or vehicles, while being highly resistant to impacts from debris. The aluminum structure and skin offer proven technology, handle impacts well, dissipate heat quickly and won’t rust. An integrated marine door with a four-point latch offers a positive water seal.
Japan learned painful lessons from the 2011 tsunami, which caused a partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactor.
The earthquake was the most powerful temblor ever to hit Japan and triggered waves that reached heights of up to 124 feet. A 2012 Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,883 deaths, 6,145 injured and 2,671 people missing, 129,225 buildings totally collapsed and 945,970 other buildings damaged.
Now the Japanese government has committed $3.5 billion for local prefectures to develop local solutions to the next tsunami, Sharpe said. Japan has set aside $6.5 billion more for additional tsunami preparation.
Sharpe thinks Survival Capsule’s products could be part of the answer.
Toho Mercantile will take delivery of 10 more two-person tsunami survival capsules in September, Sharpe said. Those units will be delivered in kit form for final assembly in Japan. Survival Capsule’s primary dealer will be in Osaka, with eight other dealers in other Japanese areas hit hard by previous tsunamis.
Sharpe said Toho Mercantile believes there will be a strong market for the survival capsules since 30 million elderly Japanese residents live within identified tsunami areas. That age group suffered the most in the 2011 earthquake, he said.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency estimates 2.5 million residents would be in harm’s way should a tsunami with waves 150 to 300 feet high surge into densely populated Tokyo, Sharpe said. Even if 90 percent of the population survives that scenario, he said, that still leaves up to 250,000 casualties. That’s where deployment of his survival capsules could help.
“The tsunami isn’t going to happen the day after you buy it,” Sharpe said.
Survival Capsule built two prototypes, one for destructive testing and another for the 17th annual Technology Against Earthquakes Expo in Yokohama, Japan, in February, where it got “a huge response and spurred us on,” Sharpe said.
Eddie Bernard, a noted tsunami expert and director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, helped Survival Capsule refine the environmental conditions the capsule would likely face when it’s deployed.
The SC2001 capsule is counterweighted to keep the sphere upright. Drinking water and air tanks are stored below the seating area to keep the center of gravity low. The capsule has one standard window, watertight air vents and hoist points for its eventual recovery.
The SC2001 doesn’t come cheap, though. Once Sharpe and Hill started engineering the capsule to survive the expected hazards of water, debris impacts and fire while providing shelter and supplies for two to three weeks, the price hit $12,000.
On the drawing board are larger capsules to seat four, six, eight and 10 people, Sharpe said.
Toho Mercantile’s capsule, once it reaches Japan, will be featured at disaster preparedness expos. The company plans to take orders later this year and deliver the American-made kits to buyers.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; firstname.lastname@example.org. More from The Herald Business Journal: www.theheraldbusinessjournal.com