This self-inflating rescue device could save your life at sea

26 Sep 2017

From left: Kevin Howlette and James Baker, co-founders of Edde. Image: TechWatch

To combat the risk of drowning, this start-up has developed an inflatable rescue device to improve upon the traditional life buoy. Emily McDaid reports.

In a swift-flowing river, an eddy can form behind a large rock where water stops flowing downstream and swirls around.

Playing on this word, Edde is an invention that a team of two rescue specialists has spent the past four years developing. Edde is a self-inflating rescue system that replaces traditional life rings.

Co-founder Kevin Howlette said: “Edde replaces throw lines, life rings, reach poles – much of this equipment housed at the water’s edge is found in a poor and neglected condition. But perhaps why it’s most innovative is that the arms of Edde come up and loop under the victim’s underarms, holding them like hooks.”

Edde is designed to prevent some of the 645 water-related deaths per year in the UK and Ireland alone – a surprisingly high figure, made even more tragic by the fact that the most likely age group to drown is 1-4-year-olds.

‘If Edde can save just one life, then the journey has been worth it’

Edde’s founding team is well experienced in this area – Howlette spent 17 years with the Northern Ireland fire brigade, and co-founder James Baker is a rescue medic, specialist rescue technician and drone designer.

Howlette explained that because cold-water shock is one of the biggest factors in drowning deaths, Edde makes it very easy for a victim to latch on to the device and be rescued. “They don’t have to hold on to ropes or lines,” he said.

If the automatic inflation doesn’t work for some reason, Edde is equipped with two backup inflation methods: by pulling an inflation cord, or by blowing into the fitted manual inflation tube.

In addition to being rescue experts, the founders behind Edde are experienced drone pilots. Currently in development, they have a drone that cleverly drops the device to the victim using facial-recognition cameras that indicate where to make the drop.

Baker uses CAD to assist in their designs of the product, which are IP-protected. The prototype has been rebuilt and perfected through eight rounds of development. Edde is made from CE-rated material and is tested at the manufacturing level before dispatch, to the same standards as SOLAS-approved equipment.

The price will be £180 for a manual inflation device and £195 for the auto-inflating design. One of the biggest current customers is Tideway, a huge project in London focused on restructuring the water and sewage systems of the Thames.


The Edde self-inflating rescue device. Image: Edde

When will it be available?

Howlette: “Our first major production run will happen within the next three months. It should be available on Amazon within the next month to pre-order. We’re also able to license the product to other manufacturers outside of the UK.”

 How does this beat current technology?

Howlette: “Aside from being hugely more user-friendly and safer than a typical life ring, it’s designed to be portable, lightweight and … able to be used by all. Even a child of 10 can throw Edde up to 10 metres. It can be worn on your belt or your rucksack and, with its quick-release strap, it is always ready for use.”

Have you done any work in the Mediterranean with drownings related to the refugee crisis?

Howlette: “We haven’t yet, but this is something we want to look into. Drowning is the third-biggest cause of death in the world and people often don’t appreciate the dangers posed by water.”

Edde is now a finalist in the Invent competition. What does the award mean to you?

Baker: “It’s made us focus more on bringing Edde to market. From February through to now, we’ve devoted more time on Edde during the competition. We’ve also designed the next product in the Edde line and are currently in the test phase of R&D.

“If Edde can save just one life, then the journey to develop Edde has been worth it.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

The annual Invent competition is run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, and aims to showcase the best and brightest innovators that Northern Ireland has to offer. Invent 2017 will take place on Thursday 5 October in Belfast, where 12 finalists will battle it out for a £33,000 prize fund and the chance to attend a Northern Ireland tech mission to California.

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland