Victoria graduate's life vest awarded

James McNab
James McNab

A life vest inspired by a free diving death in Tauranga Harbour has come second-equal in an international student design award.

James McNab, an industrial design graduate from Wellington's Victoria University, designed the Revival Vest after family friend Jacob Beck-Jaffurs died after losing consciousness while spear fishing with friends in Tauranga Harbour last year.

The invention was entered in a design competition run by the British-based James Dyson Foundation, set up by bagless vacuum cleaner inventor Sir James Dyson.

The Revival Vest uses smart fabric technology which triggers the vest to inflate based on changes in bodily signs.

It can detect changes in circumference and stretch around the chest. If a user blacks out and his or her body becomes limp, the vest is triggered to inflate and take the diver to the surface in an upright safety position ready for resuscitation.

McNab said little safety equipment was available to divers as conventional vests restricted movement and were too buoyant. In contrast, the Revival Vest was light and flexible.

Beck-Jaffurs had been a medical student who was very aware of the risks of diving and took safety precautions, but on the day he died he pushed himself too hard and blacked out.

McNab said he had been surprised during his research at the number of people who had shared water survival stories.

His invention could be used for many water sports, including fishing, kite surfing and kayaking.

Feedback had been good from local and international sports vest manufacturers, but he had yet to find a company or person to help commercialise the design, McNab said.

First place in the competition went to a product called SafetyNet which involved a series of  rings which can be retrofitted to trawler nets providing an illuminated escape route for young, unmarketable fish.

The rings exploit escape behaviours of fish, with small and medium fish swimming up when stressed, while larger fish swim down.

Designer Dan Watson, a graduate of Britain's Royal College of Art, won £10,000 (NZ$19,500) for his idea.

The other runner-up, from the United States, designed an adjustable, robust and affordable prosthetic socket able to be used around the world. That project and McNab's each won £2000 (NZ$3900).