Personnel Beacon/Locator for Mine Workers

Joseph Hollmann
Spectral Biopsy
Kansas City, MO

When trapped, miners are instructed to create noise by tapping on surrounding metal pipes and stone. However, rescuers cannot be sure these signals originated from the trapped miners or was another noise source underground. Many miners may still be alive today if technology was employed to signal that they were alive and provide their location to searchers.

Personnel Beacon/Locator for Mine Workers

The Personnel Beacon/Locator (PBL) is the solution to this proåblem. The PBL will send ultrasonic waves directly into the surrounding rock and any metal surface available. Using signaling called spread spectrum signaling (SSS), the PBL will help locate a trapped miner to within 10 feet. This signaling is also utilized by the military and Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). A small battery-powered device consisting of a piezoelectric speaker and driving circuitry is given to each miner to carry at all times while in the mine. If caught in a cave-in, all a miner has to do is press the device’s nozzle up against any exposed solid surface and depress a button. Rescuers at the surface on the other end will detect the sound signals with a series of microphones pressed up against the rock or pipe’s surface.

The detecting electronics will take advantage of the unique properties of SSS to virtually eliminate the background noise due to the cave-in and focus on the sound coming from the miners. The electronics then feed data into a computer at the base station that cross-references the distance measured with a map of the mine. This process can locate the trapped miner to within 15 feet.

The primary market for the PBL consists of 142,000 to 165,000 individuals that are directly employed in mining operations in the United States. It is estimated each device will be sold for $100, while costing under $20 to manufacture. The sensitive microphones and base stations for rescuers to utilize will have a varying cost, depending on the size of the mine and configuration of the shafts.

For more information, contact the inventor at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Honorable Mentions

Self-Checking Block Valve For Shutdown Systems

G. Paul Baker, Jr.
Safety Cycling Systems LLC
Denham Springs, LA

Within the petrochemical industry, the risk of violent, hazardous events caused by a chemical reaction is reduced by the use of a Safety Instrumented System (SIS). The obvious failures in a SIS cause the chemical process to shut down when no parameter has exceeded its allowable values. One component not easily checked for hidden failures is a block valve. A block valve’s ability to stop the chemical reaction can only be determined by fully stroking the valve, which shuts down the chemical process.

The patented SafetySIL valve technology allows the block valves in a SIS to be fully stroked without interrupting the flow of the reactants. It consists of two parallel valves in a “Y” manifold. A controller keeps at least one valve open at all times, while cycling between closing one valve, and then the other. A differential pressure transmitter looks for positive and negative differentials between the outlets of the valves. A calibrated amount of differential pressure cannot be present if the closed valve is not fully closed. If the proper amount and polarity of differential pressure is present, the cycling will continue. If there are any failures in any component, hidden or obvious, the cycling cannot be maintained.

For more information, contact the inventor at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Household Water Treatment Device

Paul Berg
Corvallis, OR
Household Water Treatment Device

This new household water treatment device uses ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect water on a container-by-container basis. It can be powered by a hand crank, as shown in the photo, or by a pedal crank, solar collectors, or connection to an electrical grid if one is available. Turning the hand crank charges the battery and powers the germicidal UV light bulb, providing disinfection for a container of water.

The only specialty parts are the germicidal bulb and its matching ballast. Any of several rechargeable batteries can be used. The estimated cost per unit is $25, when produced in bulk. If it is used to treat three batches per day of six liters per batch, and the components last five years, the cost per liter is less than 0.08 cents.

Sustainable Technologies Category Winner, "Create the Future" 2007 Design Contest

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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