Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
We are huge fans of the fan, meaning the JetForce airbag backpack technology by Black Diamond. While we do gripe about the weight of batteries and fans, the concept of a ski touring avalanche safety airbag that doesn’t use compressed gas is so attractive we nearly swoon when we experience these technological marvels.
The idea of a fan balloon is simple, but the execution requires firmware and electronic logic. Such can be prone to glitches. It’s thus not a surprise that BD (along with Pieps & POC) are recalling their first batch of retail fan packs for a software update. This doesn’t sound like anything major (potentially serious but no injuries or deaths caused by the problem; less than 2,000 packs were sold) and the recall process is claimed to be relatively painless.
A few words about product recalls. We like them. Kudos to any company that discovers a defect in a product and instead of trying to whisper about it and hope it goes away, puts it out there in partnership with the Consumer Products Safety Commission and deals with it openly and effectively. Refreshing. Thus, BD has been diligent in doing bona fide recalls for products they discover to be problematic. A good example is the recent recall of stainless steel Whippet ski poles. Other companies have been doing a good job with this as well, a relevant example being BCA. Recalls are not the easiest thing in the world to deal with — and expensive — but why pussy foot around with products people depend on for personal safety? Just work with the CPSC and get the job done. Thanks BD and others who take this route.
Black Diamond of course has a full JetForce backpack recall information push on their website for this, so no need to duplicate content in this blog post. But here is the jist with some opinion and backstory:
Again, the problem is serious, yet rare and has NOT resulted in any injuries or worse. Simply put, certain system malfunctions have resulted in either a shutdown of the pack’s electronic systems, and/or a failure to deploy. Thus, anyone with a first-gen retail JetForce should send it in (BD website has info for identifying your product).
According to the Black Diamond JetForce Recall FAQ:
“Two product defects … The first is a loss of synchronization between motor control and the electric fan motor, which creates a system error that shuts down the fan motor. This can result in the failure of the system to deploy when the handle is pulled. The second defect is very high-voltage electrostatic discharge, which resets the system to the ‘off’ position… Self diagnosis is not possible; the firmware analysis and update needs to be completed by Black Diamond…”
This morning I spoke with Jeff Nash (VP Engineering Support) at BD. Had an interesting convo with specifics about the JetForce electrostatic discharge issue. He said it was quite tough to recreate as the circumstances are rare due to the JetForce system already conforming to CE and other standards that require resistance to high voltage static. An example of a situation that would create high voltage static would be touching an ungrounded helicopter with a static charge. Jeff said the solution was to double the JetForce voltage resistance as well as rewriting the firmware so in the now uber-rare event a static discharge does shut the system down, it would simply reboot and turn back on. My impression is that after the update, the possibility of static momentarily shutting off your pack will be about as likely as a lightning strike. As to the nuts-and-bolts of updating the pack, Jeff said a future goal is indeed to have user updateable firmware, but the JetForce system does not presently have that feature. The process BD is using to update the packs involves opening the electronics case and physically swapping in some updated componentry that upgrades the pack to “fall 2015 level.”
To repeat, the solution is a firmware update that’ll require shipping the pack to Black Diamond. Here at WildSnow.com HQ we have sympathy for JetForce owners having to hassle with this. But look at the bright side. Black Diamond is acting on this with an effective fix and reasonable turnaround time (officially said to be 10 days but word on the street is turnaround could be much faster than that). More, keep in mind that these defects are rare and have caused no injuries or deaths. So send your pack in with a knock on wood, and enjoy next winter knowing the tech guys at Black Diamond have your back.
July 7, 2015 Letter from Black Diamond, condensed:
To the winter backcountry community,
Today, we’re announcing a voluntary recall for all first generation JetForce avalanche airbags sold by Black Diamond®, PIEPS and POC.
We are all deeply committed to the safety of our users… While there have been no accidents involving any JetForce Technology packs, our commitment to our users’ safety leads us to issue this recall to make the required firmware update on all packs… On behalf of all of us at Black Diamond, PIEPS and POC, I’d like to thank… early adopters of JetForce for their patience as we bring this revolutionary technology to market. We are committed to making these updates, returning your pack to you swiftly…
Most Sincerely, Black Diamond Inc.
Peter Metcalf CEO/President/Founder
For those readers who enjoy the details, here is the CPSC official JetForce recall info.