Students at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), who were inspired by a double workplace tragedy, have won a top innovation award for inventing a lifesaving device to prevent workers from getting trapped underwater and drowning.

The students said they hope their HydroFLOcean device will ensure the tragedy in Limerick last year can never happen again.

TJ O’Herlihy and Bryan Whelan died after their work platform collapsed as they were carrying out maintenance works on Thomond Bridge and plunged into the River Shannon in August 2015. They were unable to free themselves from their harnesses and they drowned still tethered to the platform.

The new HydroFLOcean (H-FLO) device has been designed to separate the user from a work platform when it is submerged in water.

It is attached to the worker’s harness on one side and to the safety cable connecting to the maintenance platform on the other. It uses the same inflation device used in life jackets to activate a gas canister once it hits water.

The canister fires and uses pressure to force a pin out, causing the device to split in two, which in turn separates the user from the sinking platform.

The lifesaving potential of the device helped the team win the Irish leg of the 2016 James Dyson Award.

Eight CIT students — seven engineering and one business — developed the concept and built a working prototype.

Project manager Arran Coughlan, 27, from Mahon in Cork City, who oversaw the team of Shane O’Driscoll, Gerard O’Connell, Kelly Lane, George O’Rourke, John Harrington, Jason Shorten, and Kacey Mealy, said they were driven to act in the wake of the Limerick tragedy.

“It had only happened a couple of weeks before college started back, so it was pretty fresh in our minds. We were tasked with coming up with an innovative device, and it all took off from there,” he said.

They built a prototype in the engineering workshop at CIT, and have put it through rigorous testing.

They now hope to find new markets where the technology can be applied — they believe it could save lives in the automotive and marine industries, particularly offshore oil rigging.

The device has seen the team win the CIT 2016 prize for innovation and the prestigious Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys award.

They now go forward to compete against teams from 22 counties for the overall James Dyson Award, and the top prize of €35,000.

Dyson engineers will announce the finalists this month, and the overall winner will be selected and announced by James Dyson on October 27.

Mr Dyson, who made his fortune from the vacuum cleaner which bears his name, founded the awards scheme to find young people who could change the world through engineering.

Four other inventions in the mix

Four other Irish student inventions have been shortlisted for the international stage of the James Dyson competition.

Mark Boda, from UL, has invented the OmniDryer, which uses 60 times less electricity than a standard dryer and is almost silent.

Matthew Gaughran, from DIT, has invented the SI personal alert and emergency alarm watch which allows users to send a text message alert for help.

Fellow DIT student, Greg Butler, has invented Orb Induction, a three-shelve station which uses induction to power mobile phone cases, which can then be used to power mobiles.

Philip Campion, also from DIT, has invented Infinite Charge, a gyroscopic portable energy-harvesting charger for mobile phones.


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