New Barryvox Beacon — Are you Dead or Alive?

Post by blogger | January 16, 2006      

Shop for the Barryvox here.

It is no secret that our two favorite avalanche safety beacons here at are the BCA Tracker and Mammut Barryvox. We like the Tracker because its indicator lights and form factor seem to work better for beginners and those who don’t practice much, while we like the Barryvox for its smaller size and fairly extensive personal settings. To our continued delight, these digital marvels are a far cry from the dark ages, when all we had was essentially an antenna lashed to a battery — but there is still room for improvement.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, can’t we have a beacon that you just turn on and point to do a search (rather than learning three different search modes?) And can’t we have some features built into these bulky plastic boxes that would make them day-to-day useful, like an MP3 player or GPS?

While not exactly a feature you’d use for day-to-day chores, the new Barryvox Pulse due out at the end of this winter (we have not used one yet) has a wild tweak that amazed and amused me when I got wind of it: the thing measures your pulse and breathing while you’re buried, and transmits your medical telemetry to the searching beacon! Remember the sick but truthful joke about beacons being “dead body finders?” Laugh no more.

According to the tech guy at Mammut, since a significant percentage of avalanche victims die from trauma, during a multiple burial the pulse feature tells you who’s still living so you can devote your rescue resources to them, rather then someone who’s already dead, e.g., avalanche rescue triage. A grim prospect to be sure, but it makes sense. Let’s just hope that when people learn about this morbid beacon feature, it’ll make them all the more motivated to travel one-at-a-time when exposed to avalanche danger.

Barryvox Pulse Beacon.
Pre-production drawing of Barryvox Pulse avalanche rescue transceiver “beacon.”

The new Barryvox Pulse is said to be about the same width and length as the current Barryvox model, while slightly thicker. It will have better protected antennas (they’re somewhat fragile in all present day beacons), and a host of other features best reported when we can verify them in an actual production unit. The pulse feature only works when your body is still, so don’t get your hopes up about using it as a heartrate monitor for your workouts. Let’s hope that along with gimics for multiple burial searching, the Pulse is also easier to use for a classic one-victim search — in my opinion that would save more lives than any other beacon feature. According to Mammut the Pulse will indeed search easier because it’ll have a triple antenna — if so, that is progress.

Blog comments, following refers to previous post about avalanche education (please do your blog comments using the comments link at the bottom of the blog posts, rather than through email):

Hi Lou,
I completely agree with your suggestion about a dummy on video. I believe that this topic never gets enough gory details of the outcomes of avalanches. Here in California I had to take a class to get my drivers license at 16 and during that class they showed some pretty gory videos to demonstrate that driving a car can have some fatal outcomes. Maybe those parts don’t get shown because of respect for the dead, and I do understand that. But as long as there is a mental disconnect people will not believe the fact that an avalanche WILL kill them if they make poor decisions on the snow.

Shop for the Barryvox here.

– D.Y.


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2 Responses to “New Barryvox Beacon — Are you Dead or Alive?”

  1. Dale Atkins January 17th, 2006 12:08 am

    Hi Lou,

    Great job reporting about Mammut/Barryvox’s proposed Pulse beacon. The idea of a wearable sensor incorporated with an avalanche beacon has been in the works for some time. Here’s some background info you and your readers might find interesting on this topic:

    The wearable sensors and avalanche beacons is based on some solid and promising work done by Florian Michahelles and his professor Bernt Schiele who recently headed the Perceptual Computing and Computer Vision Group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. I have presented a bit of their work in my Rescue Technologies talk at the last two National Avalanche Schools.

    About a year or so ago — now — Dr. Michahelles (PhD) and Schiele — both moved to Darmstadt University in Germany. It’s a very high-end technology university where Florian continues to work on the wearable sensors for avalanche rescue. He has some more info:

    Oh…about making transceivers “day-to-day useful like and MP3 player or GPS,” that’s not going to happen anytime soon. These sorts of things are actually in the works to be prohibited by the European Telecommunications Standard Institute. (They may have actually been
    approved, but I am not sure.) There are a number of concerns that have lead to this effort, even by some beacon manufacturers. One reason is that these sorts of uses require much more battery power, so there is a real issue of dead batteries at the wrong time meaning dead beacon which leads to a dead person. Also there is significant concern that these other uses might encourage and/or result in the device not being worn on the person, so the device could become separated from the user in an

    Your other point/request about having an easier to use beacon is right on. Unfortunately, the beacon market is too small to support expensive research and development, BUT other technologies are starting to trickle down so companies are starting to take a look at these technologies. The Ortovox S1 is a great example of this, and hopefully it will come to market later this season. There are other technologies out there that will make the traditional transceiver obsolete; it just going to take awhile for them to appear in the avalanche world.

    Think Snow,
    Dale Atkins

  2. Chris Utzinger January 27th, 2006 3:18 am

    Hi Lou

    Most seasoned backcountry travelers have seen one form or another of a diagram showing chances of survival of avalanche victims over time. These graphs illustrate that efficient and effective companion rescue must occur within minutes in order to be successful.

    Transceiver technology has been around for almost 40 years now. The first Barryvox transceiver was introduced in 1968. The initial single-antenna, analog technology with its audio interface remained fairly unchanged for a long time. More significant advancements in technolgy have only been made in the past eight years: Digital, dual-antenna device with distance and direction indication (Tracker), digital/analog mode choice and multiple burial indication (Barryvox), triple-antenna device for preciser pinpointing (Pieps), to name a few.

    What does the future of transceiver technology hold? Areas for ongoing possible improvement are the ease of use for the casual user as well as the signal separation in multiple burial situations. As far as new technology goes, transceivers will soon provide additional information, beyond just the location of buried subjects, to support decision-making under stress when time is of the essence.

    Mammut’s new Pulse Barryvox transceiver, which is scheduled to hit the market in the winter of 2006/2007, is taking an innovative first step in this direction. This transceiver is equipped with highly sensitive motion sensors, which are capable of detecting subtle movement as created by our bodies’ functioning cardio-pulmonary systems. If detected in a buried avalanche victim, this motion is considered vital data and is transmitted alongside the 457 kHz signal on a separate frequency. Any transceiver capable of using this second frequency and processing vital data – initially only the Pulse Barryvox, but licenses of the technology are planned to be offered to other vendors – can display this information to its user.

    The purpose of detecting and transmitting vital data information is to improve the overall effectiveness of an avalanche rescue involving multiple buried subjects. The existence of vital data provides an additional criterion in prioritizing victims with known higher chances of survival and directing the rescue effort toward them first. This triage paradigm is well-known in emergency medical services as “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

    Does the Pulse Barryvox determine who is alive or who is dead? No. The sending transciever is detecting subtle motion resulting from vital functions but not determining the quality of a pulse or respiration rate. The receiving transceiver distinguishes between signals including vital data and signals without vital data. While the reception of vital data clearly indicates higher chances of the survival of a buried subject, the lack of vital data merely indicates that the subject’s status is unknown for a range of possible reasons – use of traditional transceiver, defective sensors, or actually no longer alive.

    The Pulse Barryvox’ vital data detection is an example of how innovative technology can improve rescue effectiveness in situations where sound decisions and rapid, effective actions of companions turned rescuers can spell the difference between life or death.

    Stay safe,
    Chris Utzinger

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