Product: Light
LED Emergency Signal Beacon   (+9)  [vote for, against]
Use an LED-inset balloon as an emergency signal.

Public disclosure:

You’re at sea, the night is dark, and suddenly your boat starts taking on water. No problem (well, yes, actually big problem but…), just put on your survival suit and launch the “LEDballoon” (cool name eh?)

It’s a small kit, perhaps the size of a can of soda, that contains a long-life lithium battery, a self-inflating balloon (activated when the can is opened – filled with helium), and a very thin, and strong, wire that would unreel 100 feet to allow the balloon to float skyward, and supply it with power. The can would have a fastener that could be clipped to a life jacket.

The balloon itself would be covered in enough LEDs so that it could be seen from any direction, including from directly above, and would strobe to minimize power consumption and maximize visibility.

Modern LEDs are so bright that they can be seen for miles. Have you ever had a guy in a new car in front of you almost blind you with his new LED brake lights?

If used in stormy areas, it could be shaped to remain airborne, even in strong wind (like a kite), as a tethered balloon may tend to blow back to the ground under conditions like this.

The wire used to conduct power, and tether the unit, could also provide a makeshift antenna that’d probably yield considerable range so that the visual beacon could also be a radio beacon.

A small radar concentrator (a passive radar box reflector) could also be placed on the wire (or in the balloon) to light up the radar screens of search planes.

The system would be perfect for campers, mountaineers, boaters etc.

Very cheap to manufacture. Very easy to use.
-- TIB, Sep 09 2003

Ignore distress call balloon
Call off accidental mayday. [kamenmann, Oct 21 2004]

Finally done... https://www.kicksta...3/rescue-me-balloon
[TIB, Nov 24 2014]

"I thought you said we was gonna shoot us some sharks, Vern."
'Welp, usually thar's sharks out here'
"Hoooooly Sheeeeeeyut"
'Goddamn, lookit dat'
"Whatchoo figger 't is?"
'U - F - O'
"Not anymore"
'Them aliens is screamin' '...
-- thumbwax, Sep 09 2003

"Lookit them sharks a comin'. Yeeha!"
-- FarmerJohn, Sep 09 2003

LED Zepplin.
-- phoenix, Sep 09 2003

Hey [phoenix], I like that name. Wonder if I could get away with it?

Has anything mentioned here at the halfbakery ever gone to market?

I'm totally clueless when it comes to that kind of thing, but have several notepads filled with ideas, some of which would probably be fairly successful.

Just wondering what the next step would be for a poor boy like me in finding a partner to take care of the business side of things.
-- TIB, Sep 09 2003

Keep those ideas flowing! I couldn't find a previous link for internally lighted balloons, so that link will have to do :). Consider 1) fewer leds in a spinning balloon, 2) internally luminated like that of an airship co. (the name escapes me at the moment), 3)Needed in a storm suggests lightning and a wire tether might not be healthful.
-- kamenmann, Sep 09 2003

An existing piece of safety equipment is a little flashing beacon that floats and transmitts radio signals. The balloon could be attached to this device, so that you could be at a lightning-safe distance.
-- Worldgineer, Sep 09 2003

[kamenmann]: Thanks! I was thinking 5 LEDs should do the trick – four at 90 degrees from each other, and one on top. The balloon would have some type of swivel joint to stop the tether from becoming tangled, so it could indeed spin. I considered internal illumination, but decided against it as a concentrated point-source of light may attract more attention from a distance, something akin to a lighthouse beam. In the case of a lightning storm, you’d definitely want to reel the sucker in until it passes. A slightly stronger, larger version, of the balloon could also be used for added floatation if needed, but that defeats the purpose of the idea.

[Worldgineer]: Great idea. Maybe all that’s needed is a modification of one of those devices to include a balloon tethered RACON. It would only need to float a few metres above the sea to allow aircraft to spot it from a great distance.
-- TIB, Sep 09 2003

Excellent, but I'd put in a full power strobe.

-- FloridaManatee, Jun 03 2004

Paging [TIB]. If you're still around, send me an e-mail.
-- Worldgineer, Dec 14 2006

Better to have the LEDs _inside_ the balloon, and for the balloon to be translucent white. That way, the whole thing will light up.
-- MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 24 2014

Is that your actual product [TIB]? It is impressively like you first described. Well done even if someone else brought it to market eventually.
-- AusCan531, Nov 24 2014

This is a great idea. ELTs and PLBs can narrow a search to a general area but it's still hard to find someone. Especially at sea, looking for a strobe light in the water below swells would be very hard.
-- DIYMatt, Nov 24 2014

I can think of a lot of ways this could fail, but if it improves the chance of rescue even 20% of the time, that might be worthwhile. Hopefully the size and weight can be reduced as this is refined more. It makes a lot of sense to bring this on a boat, since a quarter pound won't make much difference. When backpacking, a quarter pound seems like a pretty big big investment for something that has a pretty low probability of being needed or useful.
-- scad mientist, Nov 24 2014

One of he question asked online was how long the helium would stay inside the canister. That does sound like a limiting factor on the shelf life which you want to be pretty long for something like this.

Is there a good chemical reaction that generates hydrogen that would be appropriate for this device? I suppose some people would worry about it burning or something, but it seems like a pressure tank is just as potentially dangerous, and there isn't _that_ much energy in one large balloon full of hydrogen is there?

Maybe the hydrogen generator could be smaller and lighter than the equivalent pressure tank of helium as well.
-- scad mientist, Nov 24 2014

And, if you're using hydrogen there are some other possibilities: Instead of powering the LEDs with batteries, maybe you power it with a Nickel– hydrogen battery that consumes some of the hydrogen in the balloon. [Never mind: zinc-air batteries have higher specific energy unless there is a huge weight savings in the Nickel-hydgrogen cell because the weight of the hydrogen and hydrogen containment is already included in the balloon.]

Also the tool could have a little hydrogen torch built in. That could lead to the interesting dilemma of whether to use hydrogen to help light a fire or use it to launch the balloon.
-- scad mientist, Nov 24 2014

Probably better to include a solar panel and a simple radio beacon.
-- mofosyne, Nov 25 2014

[AusCan531]: Nope, not mine, although after all these years I can think of a few improvements, some based on changes in available technology.
-- TIB, Nov 26 2014

random, halfbakery