The best vest: breaking down James McNab's Revival Vest

A Tauranga design graduate was inspired by tragedy but could soon be improving marine safety on a global scale. The only Kiwi among the James Dyson Award finalists breaks down his potentially life-saving innovation step by step.

A Tauranga design graduate was inspired by tragedy but could soon be improving marine safety on a global scale. The only Kiwi among the 2012 James Dyson Award finalists breaks down his potentially life-saving innovation step by step.

james mcnab revival vestFree diving and underwater spear fishing are growing in popularity here and around the world, but along with the inherent ‘hunter-gatherer’ cool factor is a growing number of safety concerns. James McNab felt compelled to confront them. His entry in the 2012 James Dyson Awards, the Revival Vest, is a design prototype based around a self- inflated life jacket targeted towards the growing numbers of free-divers and underwater spear fishermen.

“Basically, it’s a life jacket that works off your bodily signs,” he says.

A recent design graduate from Victoria University, he was inspired to craft the device after the death of a family friend who, when spearfishing in the Bay of Plenty, pushed himself a bit hard, blacked out and didn’t return to the surface.

revival vest james dyson awardSadly, with the rise in popularity of diving without scuba gear, this kind of incident is becoming common, no matter the athletic ability of the thrill-seeker. The Tauranga designer saw a worrying gap in the market that he desperately wanted to fill.

Although it’s still in the prototype stage, the result has turned heads worldwide by promoting ergonomic design and usability as equals with safety requirements. It’s with this combination that McNab hopes to crack the market.

“With safety gear in general, a key thing is that it’s seen as a hassle, so people don’t use it. The Revival Vest seeks to not hinder the experience – we want to work with the body and the intended user. We want to add to the experience – or at least, not take away [from it].”

The collaboration with smart fabric maker Footfalls and Heartbeats combines the best in technology and design to deliver safety gear to adrenaline junkies who hate those very words.

The result is a vest that can literally save lives.

The fabric detects change in circumference and stretch around the chest while the diver suppresses breathing. A blackout would make the body go limp, a change that triggers the chamber to inflate and bring the diver to the surface in an upright safety position ready for resuscitation. The chest strap is in direct contact with the skin to prevent any inaccurate readings.

McNab says talking to free divers and their families confirmed that his product design could really take off, but he was still “really blown away” when he found out he had beaten more than 450 entrants to make the finals of the James Dyson Awards recently.

“The James Dyson Foundation is really keen to discover and push young design talent and to get their products to market. So even though we’re still in development, I want to take this product as far as it can go.”

Click to enlarge the diagram explaining how the Revival Vest works. revival vest james dyson awards how it works