Patent Published for Capacitor Powered Fan Airbag Backpack

Post by blogger | August 9, 2017      
Project manager and Alpride inventor with the latest.

Project manager and Alpride inventor Marc-Antoine Schaer with a compressed gas Alpride backpack. His name is on the new patent, and the proposed capacitor based power system might be amazing.

Just in: Patent goes public for another “fan” type airbag backpack. Name on patent, Marc-Antoine Schaer, reveals this is an Alpride project that’s presumably still under the umbrella of Scott.

Big difference from other fan packs, this one has what appears to be super-lightweight capacitors as the power source. Could be yet another game changer.

From the beginning, I’ve wondered why the electric fan airbag packs don’t involve capacitors — which ever since I exploded one in my face as a 10-year-old boy, I’ve known to be quite the amazing devices. They’re like batteries on steroids only without the bulk. They’ll discharge at the high currents used by electric motors (that’s why you find in the motor starters on larger electric tools such as air compressors), and their very nature is to be eminently rechargeable (the proposed capacitors recharge in minutes!). What is more, the patent states their proposed capacitors have something like 500,000 discharge cycles. That’s incredible; a power source that’ll outlast the rucksack itself?

Downside is capacitors don’t hold a charge like a lithium battery does, and they might actually be heavier for a given amount of power. So how will they be an improvement in airbag backpacks? My guess is that first, much of the massive battery weight in current electronic packs (Black Diamond and Arcteryx) is there to provide the high current demanded by the fan motor — as well as cold temperature reserve power. Research tells me that capacitors could virtually eliminate those considerations. Secondly, I’m guessing that the higher passive discharge rate of the capacitors can be mitigated by using a few small disposable “host” batteries as part of the system. Or simply charging more could be all that’s required. Again, if capacitors charge in a few minutes, that opens up all sorts of options for “field” charging, e.g., hooking up to a larger battery pack or photovoltaic system at a hut, inside an aircraft, whatever.

I’ve been guessing-writing-saying every year that we’d see more amazing things coming out in the avy airbag rucksack space. This certainly proves the point. Many questions remain, not the least of which, can I power my coffee maker with it?

The nicely published patent it here. Read through the multiple “description” pages for some truly interesting content about the capacitors, etc.

Here are words from my source on this, lightly edited:

The capacitor system we’re using is insensitive to temperature, it has the same power at -30 oC or at 50 oC, because the energy is stored under electrostatic field, there is no chemical reaction (as batteries are doing) to release the energy. The batteries Lithium-Ion or Lithium-Polymer use a chemical reaction to release energy and power, at very low temperatures the reaction slows down.

Thus, the electric avalanche airbag using traditional batteries has to oversize the battery to have enough energy/power at very low temperatures, for example it can perhaps inflate 14 times at 20 degrees C and perhaps only 1 time after 24 hours at -30 degrees C. With capacitors we don’t need to oversize the power source and can have the “right” size; much lighter than batteries.

The capacitors we’re using have a life time of 500,000 cycles of charge/discharge — infinity compared to batteries which have a lifetime between 3 and 5 years. (WildSnow note, wow.) Moreover as there is no chemical reaction it’s much faster to charge it and can release the power much faster as well.

The capacitors are passive electronics elements and have absolutely no restrictions for travelling, storage and ship by express courier.

For these main reasons, capacitors are the best power source for avalanche airbag: lighter, powerful at all temperatures, infinity lifetime, no travel restriction, ready for internet business. The only disadvantage is the cost, capacitors are expensive!

At this time we’re looking at full system weights around 1180 grams in total (fan/compressor + airbag + trigger)

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25 Responses to “Patent Published for Capacitor Powered Fan Airbag Backpack”

  1. XXX_er August 9th, 2017 12:02 pm

    Sounds plausable, guys in electrical shop class used to charge up Capacitors and go around shocking one another

  2. Charlie Hagedorn August 9th, 2017 7:48 pm

    Most (all?) high capacity capacitors are electrolytic — there’s a liquid electrolyte in there. It’s surprising to see a claim of temperature invariance.

    There’s a bit of a continuum between capacitors and batteries. Ultracapacitors are halfway between them. The rep’s statement regarding electrostatic fields is only partially correct – the energy stored in a battery is also electrostatic, even if it is often couched in the language of chemistry. The polarization of an electrolytic capacitor’s dielectric is also a molecular-level process.

    I see a temperature-torture test in Wildsnow’s future.

  3. See August 10th, 2017 12:40 am

    I can’t think of many applications where capacitors are used like batteries aside from maybe electric vehicles where they capture and release braking energy. I’m curious about other systems currently in existence that use capacitors as battery replacements. I admit to being a bit skeptical. I don’t expect to see capacitor powered airbags any time soon, but I would be very psyched if the technology has actually developed to that point. If it has, balloon packs are just a tiny fraction of the potential applications.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 August 10th, 2017 9:12 am

    See, “used like batteries” could have a lot of meanings… my understanding is that capacitors are indeed amazingly common and indeed used like batteries.

  5. Andrew August 10th, 2017 3:58 pm

    You know all those advantages vs batteries also apply to pressurized gas stored in a cylinder?

  6. Jack August 10th, 2017 4:50 pm

    I wonder if anyone has considered the chemical elements in automotive air bags as suitable for avi airbags? Obvious transport problems, but the gas/weight ratio is pretty large. The capacitor idea is exciting, in that modern designs are very high capacity.

  7. See August 10th, 2017 6:16 pm

    What I meant by “used like batteries” is to store a significant amount of power for an extended period of time, like in a laptop computer, or a flashlight, or a cell phone, or a beacon, or a cordless drill. “Significant” and “extended” could also have a lot of meanings, but I hope you get my drift. I agree capacitors are very common, and have been for a long time, but mostly for applications where they charge up and then discharge fairly quickly, as I understand it. The Wikipedia article describes a capacitor as “like a temporary battery.” Particle accelerators, nuclear detonators, railguns, and such aren’t really what I had in mind. But I do share your interest in innovations in capacitor technology. That’s why I was wondering about examples of capacitors being used in devices where one would normally expect to find a battery. One of the only ones I can think of is a car dash cam where the capacitors just provide enough power to allow the camera to store video and shut down when the ignition is switched off.

  8. See August 11th, 2017 8:37 am

    I thought of another example– the shake flashlight.

  9. Jack August 11th, 2017 10:47 am

    I’m guessing (but as an EE from MIT, I’m entitled to guess), but I believe that a battery that continuously maintains the voltage on a modern capacitor (to prevent the inherent leakage from bleeding charge away) would make sense. I’m not up on the latest, but advances in material science have made large capacitors available and there will always be leakage paths.

  10. See August 11th, 2017 7:12 pm

    That’s interesting Jack. I wonder if we are about to see a lot more hybrid battery/capacitor power systems. Seems like charging a small “maintenance” battery and a large capacitor would be a lot faster than charging a large battery alone. Re. auto airbag inflators… I’m not an engineer but that never stopped me from guessing before— I suspect that it might be a bit of a challenge to make them inflate the bag slowly and gently enough not to cause injury if accidentally triggered.

  11. See August 11th, 2017 7:17 pm

    Not to mention making the system light but strong enough to contain a small explosion.

  12. Colin August 12th, 2017 12:39 am

    One point two one gigawatts.

  13. See August 12th, 2017 7:38 am

    Who needs the Brazil nut effect if you can travel through time?

  14. Murray Chapman August 13th, 2017 12:41 am

    Looks like the technology is pretty much there. There’s a set of destruction tests on the website too. One of the use cases they’re targeting is engine starting, which is a similar case to air bags – short duration, high power.

  15. See August 13th, 2017 8:36 am

    Thanks for the link, MC. I’ve been interested in what Maxwell Tech has been up to for years (, but I hadn’t heard of Skeleton Tech. Hey Lou, graphene!

  16. Lou Dawson 2 August 13th, 2017 10:49 am

    See, indeed! Those capacitors look amazing, I’m wondering if those are the ones Alpride is actually using, definitely a suspect. This is going to be interesting. Sounds like the packs might be super expensive however… though with the virtually unlimited life of the capacitors, perhaps they can make a system that would actually be attractive for more than a few years. IMHO, most airbags these days “age” pretty quickly, leaving us with a pack that seemed super cool on year, then by the next season beginning to evolve into a dinosaur before our very eyes. The weight and limited life of the current batteries with the electronic systems don’t help with that. And while the gas systems are pretty good, they’re not exactly improving by leaps and bounds. Lou

  17. Jack August 13th, 2017 2:22 pm

    OK, too much caffeine….. the automotive airbag avi system would make for an hilarious Myth Busters episode.

  18. Lou Dawson 2 August 14th, 2017 8:40 am

    Jack, indeed! But no joke, rest assured that every company making avy airbags has looked into the chemical “explosive” type of inflation. I’ve spoken for hours about it with everyone from BCA to Alpride. I just doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons. Biggie is you simply can’t do airline travel with these types of pyrotechnics, and even consumer shipping gets difficult. It goes on from there, for example problems with danger from rapid inflation in an environment where the user isn’t strongly positioned (as in an automobile) in relation to the exploding bag. I’m told cost is a big issue, as is the almost zero probability that government agencies would approve a safety product that involved carrying an explosive device on your back, next to your head.

    Would be happy to be wrong. Eyes open. Lou

  19. Charlie Hagedorn August 15th, 2017 7:47 pm

    I’ve looked into it, too. If it could be made to work, a chemical approach would be superior. There’s a whole lot one would need to get right.

    A saving grace is that the inflation time needn’t be nearly as quick as an automotive airbag. If costs were low enough, the airline restriction could be overcome by purchasing the relevant cartridge locally. The weight savings could be tremendous, so people would find a way to make it work.

    The challenge seems to really be on the chemistry and safety sides. You’re going to be breathing the exhaust, and any reaction is apt to be exothermic. Avalanche airbags are a tiny market — it’s been hard to find an off-the-shelf gas generator that might survive the rough-and-tumble consumer environment.

    Rimfire cartridges for explosive hammers initially look tempting (“slowly” detonate them in sequence as the handle is pulled), as they’re durable, safe in rough environments, and readily available, but the amount of gas generated is far too small to be viable (and incompatible with respiration).

  20. Lou Dawson 2 August 16th, 2017 7:45 am

    Charlie, I’ve always wondered if a slower chemical reaction would be the ticket. The bag can take 3 seconds to inflate, that’s an eternity for chemicals. There is absolutely no need for anything making a bang. One wonders if you could just stick a small bottle of soda in there, drop some Mentos in, and thus inflate the bag. Now that you bring up the idea of chemicals, indeed, it seems like a no brainer. First, find two chemicals that react to create a bunch of relativly non-toxic gas, as well as not being affected by low temperatures. Build a cartridge and trigger mechanism that inflates a balloon. Done. I’ll bet any high school science teacher already has the materials. Is the entire industry over-thinking the problem? Lou

  21. See August 16th, 2017 8:32 am

    I’m with Andrew on this— pressurized gas is the way to go. Easy weight savings compared to early generation products can be achieved with improved tanks/balloons/packs. The industry just needs to come up with a decent system for pumping up a tank with dry air or selling cheap cylinders— glorified foot pumps or pfd cartridges. Hopefully, we don’t need to be inflating our air bags more than once in a while.

  22. See August 16th, 2017 8:40 am

    With the possible exception of extended wilderness trips where more than a single inflation might be needed before returning to civilization and a big battery could have multiple uses.

  23. Gord August 16th, 2017 11:45 am

    To be accurate this is a patent application. The Arc’teryx patents clearly state any number of electrical power supplies can be utilized to power a blower/fan based avalanche bag system. Obviously we tested and compared all feasible power supplies; super-caps being one of the most obvious. At the end of the day the energy-density/weight/cost/reliability, etc. did not lead to capacitors, fuel-cells, thermal batteries, among other systems I tested, winning out over the best lithium polymer cells that we were able to develop (there were none on the market that were up to the task). The 2009 Coleman cap-driven screwdriver was also interesting, but didn’t displace all other systems.

    Rest assured, that as soon as any electrical energy storage system becomes available that offers adequate performance for our system (there are differences of opinion about how much – or little – energy is adequate, which obviously has a huge bearing on power-supply solutions, BTW) at a lighter weight and better performance equation, we will be offering it. One of our fundamental premises of the electrical system is that lighter, better, and cheaper energy storage solutions will be available in the future and allow continuous improvements, on top of all the advantages already being enjoyed by this system.



  24. Gord August 16th, 2017 11:49 am

    As for the chemical inflation – wow, I wonder why no-one ever thought of that! Sounds simple, I look forward to buying one when someone markets it 🙂

  25. Lou Dawson 2 August 16th, 2017 12:02 pm

    Thanks Gord, really appreciate you chiming in.

    FYI for new readers, Gord is the man behind the Arcteryx electric Voltair airbag system. An appreciated “industry voice” here at WildSnow.


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