I Hacked My Voltair Airbag Backpack Battery


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 26, 2016      

When I got a first-look at the Arc’teryx Voltair early last winter, initial thought:“Beautifully designed, but the battery looks kinda big and heavy.”

Next thought: “Why?” Then of course, this being WildSnow.com: “How?”

Arcteryx Voltair OEM battery to left, LiPo 1250 mAh 45C battery to right.

Arc’teryx Voltair OEM battery to left, LiPo 1250 mAh 45C battery to right.

After discussion with various insiders in the electric pack world, I’m told that the European standards for airbag packs are quite hard on fan packs. Some even told me the situation is downright ridiculous and discriminatory. It’s said this might be because the compressed gas side of the industry has biased the standards to their type of systems. Or it might simply be because ski touring gas actuated airbag packs have been around for decades, and the electronic balloon rucksacks are new and different enough to require somewhat different standards.

As an example of things the standards do not cover in favor of electronic packs: Multiple inflations or at least the numerous supplemental pulses (to compensate for a punctured or torn balloon) that both brands of electronic packs give you are nice if not wonderful features — some folks think they’re major advantages over single blast gas. Apparently the CE certification process doesn’t give a rip about about this, no pun intended.

In any case, consider Voltair, with a massive Lithium Polymer (LiPo) battery that puffs the balloon easily 14 times at room temperature, and will even do numerous inflations at subzero Fahrenheit temps. (LiPo batteries have reduced output when colder.)

Thus, my next question: Do I have to haul around extra weight I’ll never need, just to keep some nameless individuals in Europe happy about avalanche packs conforming to CE directives? Or so I can impress a large group of Germans at the Fanes Hutte by blowing the pack a dozen times in a row to drown out their robust beer singing? Perhaps not.

(To be fair, seeming as Voltair is from Canada, and people in Canada do ski in temperatures most of us would consider too chilly to venture outside, we can understand the gigantic battery. But again, do we all have to haul extra weight around just so the pack will function on Rogers Pass during a December morning in the dark, after a 12 hour bivouac?)

DISCLAIMER: This is a proof-of-concept. We are in no way advocating modifying your ski touring safety equipment.

LiPo 1250 mAh battery connected to Voltair pack, impressive performance, weight savings, and even a noticeable increase in cargo volume.

LiPo 1250 mAh battery connected to Voltair pack, impressive performance, weight savings, and even a noticeable increase in cargo volume.

I used an ice cream carton to hold my cold soaked batteries so they wouldn't warm too quickly from ambient indoor air.

I used an ice cream carton to hold my cold soaked batteries so they wouldn’t warm too quickly from ambient indoor air. Should we call this the “Ben and Jerry” hack?

One of the best things about the Arc’teryx airbag backpack design philosophy is they kept it simple. The system does have a “black box” controller mounted in the pack above the battery, but this appears to do little more than time extra pulses and trigger an initialization gust when you first switch it on. It’s a small box, 6x3x12 centimeters and doesn’t weigh much.

The actual Voltair battery is somewhat “dumb” in that it includes a high amperage switch, probably some charging circuitry, and little else. So what’s to stop me from using a smaller and most importantly lighter weight battery? Little more than cost and some hardware hacking, actually.

The OEM Voltair battery is a Lithium Polymer (LiPo) multi cell pack that’s rated at 3,700 milliamp hours (mAH) capacity, 22.2 volts. That’s the same type or perhaps even identical to batteries used in devices such as radio controlled helicopters.

I purchased two Pulse Lipo brand batteries for my experiments, 1,800 mAh and 1,200 mAh. The math is easy. For example, if the 3,700 mAh battery gave me 14 inflations at room temperature, the 1,250 mAh battery should easily give me several, while the 1,800 mAh should exceed that by a couple of fills. (You can do firm math calcs on that, but because temperature and battery age change things on the fly, in my opinion it’s better to consider this in generalities — and test in real life.) After building the requisite connector adapters, my testing verified what the math says. I got plenty of fills at room temperature with either battery.

680AC Balance Charger is impressive, even has a 12v input for operation with vehicle or  backcountry solar such as that at a cabin or hut.

680AC Balance Charger is impressive, even has a 12v input for operation with vehicle or backcountry solar such as that at a cabin or hut.

LiPo batteries require a charger that does a careful, logic controlled job of feeding the batteries — at exactly set amperage and voltage. I acquired a 689AC LiPro Balance Charger. “…Rapid charger with high performance microprocessor and specialized operating software.” A few minutes of studying the manual and fiddling with buttons got me the best charge possible, including “balancing” the battery internal cells. WARNING: If improperly used you can damage batteries with this sort of charger — be very careful about the settings each time you charge.

The challenge is how these batteries would do after a cold soak. For most people, however, unrealistic to assume ski touring in temperatures that would cold soak the battery to below zero fahrenheit. If you do need that capability you know who you are, and the OEM Voltair battery is rated to provide inflations even when digits drop to subterranean levels. More, my experiments indicated the cold soaked and slightly larger 1,800 mAh battery would be entirely adequate at below zero temps (though where the exact temperature cutoff point is would have to be determined by more experiments.)

So, I tested the batteries by cold soaking for 3 hours in freezer at 0 fahrenheit (-18 C). Chilly. After two inflations I put them back in the freezer for another half hour, then finished the cold testing. I didn’t run the batteries down to failure (which damages the batteries), no reason to do so. I simply verified that they’d inflated the pack several times when cell temperature was a big fat Zero F. I’m delighted to report that both batteries performed surprisingly well. I did 4 inflations with the cold soaked 1800, and 3 with the 1250.

We have a chest freezer, so as an additional test I cold soaked the pack and 1250 battery at negative 2 degrees fahrenheit for 18 hours. I then tested and got two robust inflations along with 5 of the “pulse” blows per inflation, before disconnecting the battery.

During my cold soaking tests the number of inflations was NOT taken to the point of failure. As all you really need is one event — I’m calling that good.

Interestingly, the smaller battery does become warm to the touch when activated, and thus easily warmed itself from the cold soak. The larger one warmed up about 10 degrees F after each airbag activation. That means that even when cold soaked, after their initial trigger these batteries self-heat and easily provide the 10 extra “insurance” fill pulses that the Arc’teryx electronics control. This especially true if the battery is stored in an insulated location.

Weights:
1250 mAh Pulse LiPo: 7.3 oz, 222 grams (20 ounces, 567 grams savings from OEM)
1800 mAh Pulse LiPo: 11.4 oz, 324 grams (15.9 ounces, 450 grams savings from OEM)
3,750 mAh Arc’teryx: 27.3 ounces, 774 grams

This hack is not plug-and-play. I had to configure the correct connectors, and the Delphi Metri-Packs are not child’s play. Unless you know an electronics geek who’s an experienced hardware hacker, it’s probably DIY with the help of YouTube — and order multiple connectors so you have a few to practice on. I’d also advise storing the battery in a LiPo bag while it’s inside your pack. As a bonus, if you expect crypt temperatures you can throw a chemical hand warmer in with the battery (though doing so is not necessary for temperatures down to zero fahrenheit, according to my tests.)

For connectors, I permanently attached a Metri-Pack 480 female to the battery leads (this is the OEM Arc’teryx connector). For exact connector info see our cell phone wiring harness post. I made a wiring harness for the charger using a male Metri-Pack and an EC3 female to mate with the battery charger lead. Many ways go with attaching charger as it’s low amperage and comes with a large variety of preconfigured jumpers, important thing is a short high-current connection to the backpack that matches Arc’teryx use of flexible #10 wire (known as silicon “worm wire”). Youtube videos and soldering equipment made it all go well for me, though I’m glad I ordered extra connectors to support a steep learning curve.

Interestingly, the batteries are rated as 45C discharge rate (don’t get anything less) but have only a 12awg size wire lead. The battery wires do sport low-temp flexible silicon insulation (for high altitude RC aircraft flights?). While thicker 10awg silicon “worm wire” is clearly best for 44 amps, such as the cable used by Arc’teryx, in my testing the Pulse Lipo 12awg battery wire did not become warm to the touch, so they pass. Nonetheless, if using this hack in the field I’ll probably chase the 12awg wires with silicon “rescue” tape to prevent shorting if they crack from the cold or are otherwise damaged. Same goes for other wires as well. Like I said in previous blog post, it’s considered poor form to ignite your backpack.

Downsides: Important to test in the conditions you normally ski in, regarding temperatures. Cost isn’t that prohibitive but the charger and battery will set you back a bit. Perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of an “off” switch. With the aftermarket battery attached the system is always armed and “on.” To switch off you have to disconnect the battery. A 50 amp toggle or rotational switch could be added, but they’re heavy and you’d have to figure out a way to “safety” the switch so it wouldn’t get turned off accidentally. A nicer option and something I might still solder up is a disarming switch, which is simply a connector that’s configured to be yanked out of the circuit and thus turn everything off. Presently, I’m comfortable with controlling things by simply connecting and disconnecting the battery. You have to do so anyway for charging. Important, please again note this is an experiment, not a recommended mod. The RC batteries lack overload and short circuit protection, which the OEM Voltair battery has as built-in features.

Summary: With attention to detail with connectors and battery storage, this hack will look and perform “factory” while saving significant weight and even increasing the interior volume of the Voltair backpack. Clearly proven by my experiments above, if a smaller battery is used at less than horribly extreme temperatures, and stored next to your back inside the pack, it is entirely adequate for most people. I now have an Arc’teryx 30 liter electric avalanche airbag pack that only weighs 7 pounds (3,220 grams), but is easy for airline travel and eliminates the refill hassle you get with gas actuated packs. Not the lightest 30 liter airbag pack out there, but pretty good for an electric pack that’s somewhat overbuilt.

The airbag weight winner these days is probably the Mammut offerings, especially when graced with their European carbon cylinders. But those packs are not near as durable as the Arc’teryx, and again, remember that electric packs have advantages such as easy zero-cost recharge and pain free airline travel.

Please see all our extensive Voltair ski touring airbag backpack coverage.

The Arc’teryx Voltair will be available soon from selected retailers such as Backcountry.com

Safety note: As far as I know these RC purposed Pulse Ultra LiPo batteries do not have a protection circuit for a “dead short,” meaning the event of permanently crossing-connecting the positive and negative lead wires. While my research indicates it’s unlikely a shorted LiPo battery will actually become hot enough to ignite, it can pop open and emit a cloud of steam and the shorted wires themselves could ignite flammable materials. If this sort of mod becomes popular, some testing to failure would probably be wise.

While recent events with problematic cell phone batteries have increased awareness of battery safety, in my opinion it’s not a big deal. Firstly, most problems happen during charging and can be guarded against by simply locating your charger in a safe place. Secondly, regarding wire shorts, they’re usually going to be intermittent, thus causing sparking but not heating up the battery to any significant degree.

Perhaps most importantly, battery protection circuits also include deep discharge protection that could disable your airbag battery when you need those last few amps. My understanding is that one reason radio controlled aircraft batteries don’t have such protection is that landing the plane with battery dregs, and damaging the battery, is better than crashing the aircraft. Likewise, in a safety device, better to simply allow every last bit of power to be used if necessary. (Lack of deep discharge protection is one reason I did not deploy these batteries to total failure, nor did I do so with the OEM Arc’teryx battery).

Thus, WARNING: When experimenting with this system I noted that when the custom battery was connected to the backpack electronics, it powered up the system — with no on-off switch other than disconnecting the battery. That means that the battery is constantly discharged until disconnected. Two problems with that:

1.)Fail to disconnect and charge battery, but leave it connected, you’ll totally ruin the battery due to deep discharge (how long you have for this depends on the battery capacity).

2.)After a few days, the battery may be depleted to an unsafe level.

The obvious safety solution for battery shorting is to store the battery inside your pack in a Lipo case, and insulate the wires reliably with something that’s flexible at cold temperatures, such as silicon tape. Further, it could perhaps be wise to solder a section of fusible link wire into the battery leads. One would assume the OEM Arc’teryx battery has a protection circuit but I’ve not verified this. Interestingly, you can find dozens of battery protection circuit modules in the web. They’re tiny things, and cheap, so adding one into your mod could be an option. Though again, I don’t see this as particularly necessary provided you’re careful with battery handling and your electrical work. Any electrical engineers care to comment on that idea? Here is a video of a LiPo shorted out and taken to failure.

Comments

24 Responses to “I Hacked My Voltair Airbag Backpack Battery”

  1. Jeremy C September 26th, 2016 10:07 am

    I have to say I can see the logic behind this mod, much more than your single cylinder Alpride hack, as this one does not change the specification of the inflation cycle. Since Arcteryx produces the pack with a removable battery (unlike the Jetforce) maybe they plannd to release smaller batteries in the future.

    I guess both Arcteryx and BD, had to meet regulations, and tried and think of every way the packs might be used (left outside either a tent or in truck overnight, strapped to the back of a snow mobile for hours etc). I’ve skied in Japan at -36C with my Jetforce, and the level indicator lights never dropped, but as you mentioned the battery is positioned in the warmest place against your back.

    As the saying goes, you only get one chance at first a first impression, so they went with overbuilt works every time, rather than risk negative press after a string of testing failures. They also knew the would be massive press/consumer interest (I seem to remember your site almost crashed under the load of the first Jetforce review).

  2. Toby September 26th, 2016 10:15 am

    Compresed gas cylinders issues: air travel transport and gas cylinder norm itself e.g. Current 3000psi carbon cartridges, are mainly issues in North America only. IATA very clearly allows travel with these equipment. Somehow it is understandable from Euro perspective, at least, that after years and years of having these troubles with TSA &Co, Euro manufacturers are now giving it all back. Just guessing- really. Thanks for all these cool reviews WS.

  3. VT skier September 26th, 2016 12:42 pm

    Be careful not to discharge your LiPos below about 3 volts per cell, or in this case below about 18 volts. Anymore than that means you may permanently damage the LiPo.

    Most LiPo chargers will indicate how many mAh of juice it takes to restore the LiPo to full charge. So if it takes say 1400 mAh to restore the 1800 LiPo to full charge you are probably ok. More than than that discharge level and LiPo could be damaged. Use a 1C charging rate to save the LiPo. So for the 1800mAh LiPo charge at 1.8 amps.

    Self generated heat indicates possible inadequate LiPo capacity for the current draw. . Best to let LiPo cool to ambient temperatures before another airbag test, or charging.
    I could send you pictures of some of the stuff I fly, RC Helicopters and 4 m sailplanes, but this is a ski forum . 😉

  4. Avid September 26th, 2016 3:27 pm

    CE specs in this product are ridiculous. I wish they would leave the rest of the world alone to do what makes us happy. Is there room for a non-EU model? Or market space for a 3rd party aftermarket replacement battery?

    Gas av bags are dead.

  5. Lou Dawson 2 September 26th, 2016 5:01 pm

    VT, yep, I’d think my smaller battery was right at the limit. But it just gained 10 degrees or so over ambient, no big deal IMHO though perhaps I won’t get as many charge-discharge cycles out of it as I could if I didn’t abuse. I plan on using it in real life, with quite a few tests, so I’ll update this post as winter progresses. The larger battery gained so little heat I had to measure with my infrared thermometer, I couldn’t feel it. The Arcteryx fan wires and fan get warmer than either battery. As mentioned, both batteries are 45C so they can handle the current I measured as 44.x considering it doesn’t last but seconds. It’s not a continuous load situation by any means, unlike aircraft.

  6. Tim September 26th, 2016 5:23 pm

    Crazy idea perhaps, but why not wear the battery close to your body somehow (chest harness) in order to keep it warmer? It seems small enough.

  7. Lou 2 September 26th, 2016 7:26 pm

    Tim, sure, could be done, but according to my tests not necessary for most backcountry skiers. The battery is close to your back, so it’s clearly not going to drop to ambient very fast, especially if you start at room temperature and insulate it. And like I said, just throw a chemical hand warmer in there with the battery if in doubt. Honestly, I think the temperature issue is blown way out of proportion. Lou

  8. Rich September 27th, 2016 3:49 am

    I read recently the new GoPro can be voice activated. Last year after being fortunate enough to ski out of a slide, I considered whether a similar system would be of benefit in an abs. Trying to juggle options, looking behind you, trying to ski out, ditching poles etc and then also reaching over to pull the cord is a lot to coordinate in a stressful situation. Being able to voice activate could be a good addition . What do u think ?

  9. Martin September 27th, 2016 7:34 am

    Interesting hack!
    Definitely an improvement for airtravel. Though it’s probably a good idea to put the battery in the carry on luggage:
    https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

  10. Lou Dawson 2 September 27th, 2016 9:39 am

    I have a new post for today but I think I’ll let this one stay on top for a while, it took a long time to create.

    We’re up at WildSnow Field HQ logging in the beautiful fall weather. Perhaps we’ll post a photo in a few hours. Meanwhile, I did acquire a portable electric espresso maker, so we shall see…

    Lou

  11. David Hackbarth September 27th, 2016 9:52 am

    Lou,
    Lithium battery safety issues are at the top of the list for FAA right now…..The airlines are cracking down on Lithium battery items on planes, i.e. the “hover board” issues, the samsung galaxy issue…..So a blog article on the rules for traveling with an lithium battery powered Avyy airbag would be valuable. While I appreciate your modification there are some very strict rules regarding testing and proper protection for battery shorts that would apply to any modifications performed. Caution is advised regarding airline travel. Some blog research on this would be helpful.

    David

  12. Lou2 September 27th, 2016 12:16 pm

    David, I’ll look into it, but let me tell you that after spending literally days researching gas cylinder rules (when we got going with the Scott system) , we never found anything conclusive. Problem was the interpretation of terminology and the like. One thing we found is they leave a LOT up to the discretion of the TSA agents. I learned this the hard way when we asked permission to carry on a climbing rope and the TSA agent said “I don’t know” and it went on from there to no conclusion. Basically, if you think you’ll usually get a straight answer out of TSA you are expecting way too much of a vast bloated bureaucracy. But I’ll try.

    For what it’s worth, I’m looking at some TSA stuff that says you can carry a lithium battery that’s up to 100 watt hour in capacity, for the 3700 mAh Arcteryx battery, which calcs out to 82.51 watt hours at 22.3 volts, not a problem.

    http://blog.tsa.gov/2013/06/travel-tips-tuesday-safely-packing.html

    Following says basically the same thing:

    https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

    I think the RC aircraft folks are the ones to watch for sourcing information. There are thousands of those guys and they fly commercial all over the world with their rigs and LiPo batteries in sizes such as we use for airbags. Again, reading their stuff, the 100 watt hour battery size limit is important, and a few other things like securing the battery leads, carrying in a LiPo case, labeling the battery, and perhaps not carrying it fully charged (though I’ve not observed any TSA folks with battery level checkers clipped to their pockets.)

    Clearly, when labeling the battery, calculating the watt hours and including in label would be good. Remember that watt hours is calculated from amp hours by including voltage in the calc, Google can find numerous easy calculators.

    http://www.dronethusiast.com/traveling-with-lipo-batteries-drone/

    Most important thing, other than basic AA batteries in commercial packaging, NEVER check batteries in baggage , illegal and dangerous.

    I’ve been placing lithium AA batteries in my checked baggage for years, in their original commercial packaging, and never had a problem with TSA and they’ve looked right at them while I’ve been standing there watching. I’ve thrown a detached laptop battery in there on occasion as well but apparently that might be illegal or at least ill advised.

    Lou

  13. See September 27th, 2016 8:34 pm

    From a social engineering standpoint, I don’t think I would want to make a critical safety system available for recharging phones. As much as I admire the citizen power aspect of the system, I still think I would rather have a firewall between the pack battery and other equipment.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 September 28th, 2016 6:48 am

    As this could be a viable mod that folks would use in real life, I’ll go ahead and purchase another of the smaller batteries and test it with a fuse added to protect against dead short. I’ll then test it to failure. I’ll also spend time finding the best size LiPo bag. The battery itself is way under the carryon baggage battery size limit, so once it is verified as protected against accidental shorting, I don’t see any problem. It’ll be just another battery with the hundreds (if not thousands, honestly) already present on any commercial airline flight. Lou

  15. Adrian January 3rd, 2017 5:48 pm

    I design battery systems for a living. Don’t do this.

    Issues:
    Any battery mods will void safety agency testing. You will not be able to fly with this if you are using a modified battery pack.

    Cell balancing! RC packs don’t have cell balancing. This type of application requires active cell balancing that is specific to light use batteries. This product must sit unused for months or years and the cells must be ready to perform. Li-ion cells have a natural self-discharge that varies between cells. The circuit must detect this and balance the cells even when stored so the pack is ready when you need it.

    Cell ageing. The original pack is likely overbuilt so that it can perform as advertised after a few years. Li-ion will naturally degrade over time, so a 5 year old battery pack will have 50% of original capacity even if you don’t use it.

    Cold specific cells. Likely the original cells are cold-specific. Most run of the mill Li-ion will not work at -20C, and will not charge below 0C. (you plate metallic lithium during cold charging which becomes a safety hazard).

    It’s a neat engineering exercise, and I applaud your ingenuity, but don’t modify safety gear.

  16. Lou Dawson 2 January 3rd, 2017 6:19 pm

    The charger I use does cell balancing. I appreciate you being a pro, but research before you make specious claims, and perhaps read the blog post?

    Regarding cell aging, of course they do. Solution is an occasional test. If it works, it works.

    Regarding cold, again, easy to test.

    Flying? The LiPo pack I used is perfectly legal to fly with, it’s under the max size stipulation.

    This is WildSnow.com; All gear is safety gear, and most shall be modified. But most certainly this is proof of concept and not recommended for anyone but ourselves!

    Lou

  17. Lou Dawson 2 January 3rd, 2017 6:23 pm

    By the way, I did test with dead short. It heated the connector and then disconnected due to the connector failing. No fire, explosion or other. Nonetheless, protection against shorting is a big deal. That’s a concern. Again, this is proof of concept not a recommended consumer mod. Lou

  18. VT skier January 3rd, 2017 7:09 pm

    Lou,
    If you shorted out a LiPo pack, as you say, either on purpose, or accidentally I would not use that battery pack for anything. The high heat generated by a short can damage the cells internally. In fact I would leave it outside in a fireproof container for a few days ! If it starts to “puff”; lose it’s rectangular shape dispose of it.

    For off season storage or even a week when you won’t use the LiPo best to discharge it down to about 3.8 volts per cell. Your charger pictured above should have a discharge function built in. This will greatly improve the life and reliability of your LiPos
    Then charge your LiPo back up to 4.2 volts per cell, with balancer connected during charging before a tour when you need the Airbag.

  19. Lou2 January 4th, 2017 4:48 am

    Hi Vt, the lipo I shorted is a second one I bought specifically for destructive testing and non critical use. I should have mentioned. Lou

  20. Argus January 4th, 2017 12:50 pm

    Hi Lou, I read through the thread and am genuinely interested in trying to trim some of the weight off my new Jetforce 34 pack if I can do it safely. I came across this thread and thought it was a great starting point for cutting some of the excess battery that the pack seems to have. (I would be happy with 3 inflations at room temp, leaving room for the battery to drain during the day/in the cold and still have two inflations in reserve).

    Reading through Adrian’s comments Re: modding the battery pack, I see where he is coming from and do not agree that he was being specious. The many hidden consequences of using a non-balanced pack have not been addressed with your mod. I would consider the following points before settling out on a real tour with the pack where you expect it to function in a life-or-death scenario.

    Cell balancing: Even though the charger you’re using performs cell balancing during a charge cycle, minor differences in the cell voltages can cause the cells to become imbalanced over normal use or slow drain (e.g. pack was charged at the end of a ski day but it’s been a couple of weeks and you head out without rebalancing). Since the cell balancing is built into the Arcteryx and BD housings, removing this function poses a risk. An imbalanced cell (especially an older one) can drop below safe values and go into thermal runaway (melting one’s $1000 airbag, or maybe free sample in your case).

    Cell aging: This seems like an easier thing to monitor, but most of the time you will be “testing” for cell aging, you’ll be in your warm living room. Getting 2-3 inflations at RT might only equal one in the backcountry (and then where’s the advantage of an airbag pack?!) If you test in the cold, well how do you know you have enough for another? My point isn’t to say you are wrong about your testing, only to highlight how confidence in the stock battery can quickly morph into a fuzzy grey area.

    Testing in cold: One thing I read about the certification process for the Jetforce pack is that they soaked the pack in water overnight then froze the wet pack at -30C. It is possible this puts much more load on the inflation cycle and an imbalanced or old battery would fail to inflate a minimum of 2 cycles. I have my own theories about remaking the airbag out of dyneema fabric, but these kind of hidden nuggets have caused me to seriously consider how much I want to modify a stock system.

    One question I need to remind myself to ask when looking at a questionable design is “why did the engineers do it this way, and why didn’t they try to save more weight/space/cost here or there? As for the engineers at BD, the same folks that make climbing cams, skis, headlamps, and packs, I usually will give them the benefit of the doubt as a mechanical engineer and gear designer myself. I’m sure there are many design decisions all over these packs that are representative of tens of iterations that failed before the one in front of you.

    Lou, you may not be interested in 99% confidence in your avy pack working when you need it, but consider this…

    If you’ve convinced 100 people with this article to do what you did, one may be buried because their mod didn’t work. A little harsh, but a true statement to be sure. And of course airbag packs aren’t “guaranteed to save your butt”, because if they were, you could be pretty sure it would be printed right next to “Arcteryx”. However, they probably could have gotten away with “our battery has >99% chance of working” and not been sued for false advertising.

    STERN PATRONIZING WARNING TO OTHER READERS HERE, shrug at your own risk 😉

    Please consider the confidence level you are willing to accept and make your own conclusions. Have you really thought of all the gotchas? Are you SURE? Really super-sure? Have you read Article 10 of 89/686/EEC which covers avalanche airbags? Have you really balanced your cells to the proper level? Are you sure? Have you tested 2 times in the cold, and then recharged? Did you do it with a frozen zipper? What about a 2 year old battery…and a frozen zipper, twice? Redundancy and engineering rigor is a good thing guys and gals, be suspicious of short answers. Lord knows we could all benefit from a bit more context. Details matter!

  21. Lou Dawson 2 January 4th, 2017 2:22 pm

    Hi VT, firstly, this thread is not about Jetforce, but rather covers experimenting with Voltair.

    Your points are good, and I hope I made it clear that this is an attempt at proof of concept as well as simply being a fun and educational experiment. Your’s and other’s comments help make that clear.

    One thing, there is never a 100% chance of anything like this (stock or modded) working as intended. Batteries do age, zippers do freeze, mistakes are made with how the pack is loaded or ski carry is configured, you might find yourself out on a day when temperatures are below the specified range for the pack, but do you remember what those temps are, and will you trigger an inflation to test at the trailhead, with certainty that when you repack the balloon you have juice for another inflation? The logic trail leads down a rabbit hole.

    It could also be said that if someone else published this, without as much testing and care for results, perhaps my NOT publishing a more detailed and tested version could be considered irresponsible (smile)?

    For all, here is a link to the EU Directive referred to above.

    http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31989L0686

    All that said, your last paragraph should refer to all electric airbag backpacks, not just to one that was ostensibly modified.

    Lou

  22. Argus January 4th, 2017 3:12 pm

    Hi Lou2, thanks for the honest reply. Your conclusion is totally on point. I think it’s problematic when people sell certainty, and I think the airbag companies try to tow a very fine line between highlighting positive results from studies and over-promising safety. In general I think they’ve done that well.

    The certification and testing these companies do is designed to protect against negligence in the design process, and an engineering safety factor is always built in. Reducing that margin increases your chance of a negative result, in this case, a bag that doesn’t deploy. Obviously the responsibility for a modification would be on the owner, but I think it is all too easy to be lured into a false sense of confidence when things don’t show obvious signs of failure.

    All I’m trying to do is highlight that with a big fat *. I think you did that well in your original writeup, but I felt you may have been a bit dismissive of other users warnings, thus the post. Thank you as always for going in depth on your reviews, and I will be posting a mod of my Jetforce in time too. I look forward to everyone telling me all the ways I may die because of it 👿

  23. See January 4th, 2017 8:51 pm

    I wonder if any of you have observed changes in behavior related to the increased prevalence of airbag technology. Are people taking greater risks? Are people carrying airbags in self defense because of such changes in behavior?

  24. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2017 11:13 am

    Did more cold soak testing and some edits. Have the smaller Voltair 20 here now, which still has quite a bit of cargo capacity, carries much better, and accepts our test batteries. Lou

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