A device invented to save pilots from oxygen deprivation could soon also help divers, climbers, firefighters or anyone using oxygen systems function more safely.
Innovators at NASA's Johnson Space Center have researched and developed an oxygen warning system that is installed directly into a breathing mask and is able to detect and even prevent oxygen deprivation, also known as hypoxia, in the mask user. The device is actually patented as an advanced apparatus for monitoring partial pressure of oxygen in air mask systems.
It was invented by NASA astronauts Mark Kelly and Don Pettit with the aerospace industry in mind, but pilots aren't the only ones who need such warnings. The warning system could be integrated into almost any commercially available oxygen mask. In the mask, a vibration or "nose beater" element and loud, high-pitched alarm alert a person who may have become too groggy in response to the low oxygen levels. Pettit has flight tested the mask himself in a T-38 jet. (Pictured) The symptoms of hypoxia can include drowsiness, slower reaction times and even blackouts.
Oxygen systems for scuba divers, the military, firefighters, mountain climbers, industrial hazardous-material workers and even medical oxygen systems could benefit from the technology. If a system's oxygen pressure dips below a safe, preset level then the sensor's alarm system alerts the user so they are able to take action and correct the dangerous and possibly fatal situation. Oxygen sensors currently available are not able to monitor just the oxygen pressure, and they are usually placed upstream of the breathing system, making it hard to detect problems with hoses, masks and connections.
The sensor works independently of the air system to provide more accurate detection to produce warnings in the event of an oxygen system failure. The safety system is fairly easy to put into place, because it relies on communication wiring already present in many oxygen masks. It requires few modifications and little assembly cost.
Johnson Space Center has received patent protection (U.S. 7,040,319) for this technology, and now it is being made available through the center's Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which works to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. Companies are invited to consider licensing this Method and Apparatus for Monitoring Oxygen Partial Pressure in Air Masks (MSC-23309-1) for commercial applications by calling 281-483-3809 or sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.