The theme for this year's Product Engineering Processes class contest at MIT was "Emergency". One of the contestants was Airware, a wetsuit with an integrated emergency air supply. Targeted initially at big wave surfers, the Airware wetsuit is intended to provide a few breaths of emergency air for when a surfer finds themselves pulled under and pinned down by a crashing wave.
The MIT student team took an ordinary wetsuit and concealed 16 feet of half-inch plastic tubing snaking across the back and down the legs. This length of tubing can hold up to 3L of compressed air, enough for 2-5 breaths. The tubing terminates at a normal scuba regulator integrated into the left sleeve, within easy reach of the surfer's mouth. The tubing is designed to be lightweight and non-bulky so as not to restrict the surfers movements.
The Airware system comes with a gauge that allows the surfer to make sure there is still air left in the tubing before taking a breathe. Breathing into the regulator first expels the water so the surfer can then begin breathe in as normal. One drawback on the current Airware emergency air supply design, is that the wetsuit has to be refilled by a scuba certified air source in order to prevent unregulated and unsafe refilling. This may be easy for professional big wave surfers but will be difficult for a more mass market approach.
The team is looking to next integrate the Airware emergency air supply system into a life jacket design, common gear for big wave surfers, and more practical for use in warmer climates such as Hawaii. The concept could eventually be used by other water sports such as kayaking or even marine rescue.