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Home >Opinion >Patents that have brought the Everest closer

Moutaineering technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the 60 years since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaled Mount Everest. A lot has changed since these pioneers used reindeer fur boots, rusty steel crampons, heavy oxygen tanks and only their eyes and team mates help to navigate the treacherous terrain. Mountaineers now have global positioning system, or GPS, devices, solar-charged radios, thermal coats, health bars, ready-to-eat food, light and slim aluminium oxygen canisters, digital SLR cameras, lightweight backpacks and ergonomic ice picks, waterproof inferno bags, ropes that are no longer made of jute or hemp but dynamic nylon and millet, logs that are written on laptops and tablets rather than copiously hand-written ones, and tents that even have wifi. While the details of these are best examined by a professional mountaineer, here’s a look at some patents aimed at making peaks like the Everest easier to scale.

Mobile as an altimeter

An altimeter is used to measure altitude. However, in 2000, Motorola Inc. filed for a patent for an invention that provides novel features and improvements to a portable communication device, for example, a mobile telephone or a radio set, that is part of the standard equipment of a mountain climber. The invention, according to the filing, allows a mountain climber to receive information about the altitude from the portable device, reducing the total number of devices that need to be part of the climber’s equipment.

High altitude hydration system

Then we have NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s December 2009 patent that offers a freeze-resistant hydration system for licensing. Dehydration is a life-threatening complication for high-altitude climbers. The device aims to provide 2-3 litres of liquid (water, tea, or nutritional supplement) over the course of a full summit day. The technology, claims NASA, substantially improves on existing hydration systems that cannot prevent water from freezing in the tubing, container, and mouthpiece in the harshest conditions on earth. This technology is designed to work at –40°C and 15-mile-per-hour winds over a 12-hour summit day, and likely well beyond. Field testing was performed at Mt. Everest in May 2009.

Avalanche life jacket

Avagear Inc. published a patent on 23 March 2011 for its invention of an avalanche life jacket having an air bag inflatable by a gas release system upon actuation. The life jacket provides a torso strap and buckles for attaching the life jacket to the user. Prior to inflation, the airbag is folded and enclosed within the harness. The harness encloses the air bag via an enclosure mechanism that opens during inflation of the air bag to allow it to expand fully. The life jacket further comprises a gas release system that may be automatically actuated by an accelerometer and/or manually actuated by the user’s pulling of a release handle. Upon actuation, the gas release system releases gas into and inflates the airbag, according to the patent filing. The air bag inflates to surround at least the back and sides of the user’s head to provide physical protection and a thermal buffer between a portion of the user and the external environment, for example, during and after an avalanche and to facilitate search and rescue of the user after the avalanche. A hood or mesh is also included to shield the user from the external elements such as snow and thereby facilitate in preventing injury and/or suffocation during a fall or an avalanche.

Electric tent

Coleman Co. Inc. filed a patent on 24 August 2012 for a ‘tent electrical system’ wherein a wiring harness is routed through a tent or shelter either by attaching the wiring harness to the tent or shelter, or integrating the wires into the fabric for the tent or shelter. The wiring harness may be sewn into the seam or hems of the tent or shelter. A socket is attached to the wiring harness and is mounted to the tent or shelter. It includes contacts that may engage a fixture or appliance, such as a light source. An opposite end of a cord leading to the socket can be attached to a power supply, such as a battery box or battery pack. Examples of items that may be attached to and used with the socket include a bug light, a tent fan, a radio, a hair dryer, a combination fan and light, a misting system, and a bug zapper.

Chamber to prevent ‘mountain sickness’

On 4 December 1990, Portable Hyperbarics Inc. published a patent for a lightweight, backpackable, inflatable and collapsible hyperbaric chamber with enough room for a person to sleep. The chamber comprises a compressed air tank and an adjustable demand valve inlet connected to the chamber for achieving and adjusting air pressure inside it to help a person sleep better and avoid ‘mountain sickness’ on high altitudes.

Face mask

Robert Gregory Beliveau’s patent, published on 5 March 2013, envisages a flexible, low-coverage face mask for protecting a user’s face from sunlight, wind, and other outdoor elements. The invention comprises a face mask on a body formed of an outer first layer of spandex with a sun protective factor; an intermediate second layer of open-cell foam; and a third layer of micro-suede or brushed nylon material that is configured to contact the user’s skin. The mask also has a nose shield portion; a pair of cheekbone shield portions; a pair of ear strap portions; and a nostril shield including a pair of nostril holes to facilitate breathing. Sportspersons or mountaineers wearing goggles or eyeglasses have a set of hook and loop patches, wherein one patch is affixed to the eyewear’s bridge and the mating patch is affixed to the nose shield.

Machine to simulate mountain climbing

And for those not willing to climb mountains, Ningbo Sinogym Sports Co. Ltd’s patent, published on 1 March 2012, provides for a mountain climbing machine that comprises brackets and a handrail provided on the brackets and two pedals. The mountain climbing machine can better simulate mountain climbing and utilize the user’s gravity force and pedalling force to run so as to obtain better body-building effect, the patent filing claims.

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