KPU Wilson School of Design students create award-winning hyperbaric chamber

The students won a commercial equipment award for their design

Alta hyperbaric chamber prototype design (submitted).

Alta hyperbaric chamber prototype design (submitted).

Last month, a group of students in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Wilson School of Design won an award for designing a hyperbaric chamber made for hikers suffering from altitude sickness. 

After nine weeks of evaluating and constructing, 10 third-year product design students completed the Alta Hyperbaric Chamber. The design was awarded as the student winner in the commercial equipment category of the Core77 Design Awards.

“It was very exciting to win the award because of how much work our team put into it,” says project coordinator Camille Dansereau. “We were all just overjoyed that we actually got an award from a prestigious design community.”

Core77 Design Awards is an annual competition that recognizes many areas of design enterprise, allowing both students and professionals to showcase their work.

“None of us really expected it — it was quite an honour to receive this award,” says recent graduate Clarissa Martins. 

“It was nice to have the hyperbaric team recognized due to the fact that it gave more opportunity to educate people about hyperbaric chambers, as there are mountaineers who are cautioned to have awareness and [it] can potentially save lives.”

Hyperbaric chambers are sometimes used to treat high altitude illnesses, which can happen to people who climb 8,200 feet or higher and are not used to the thin air. Symptoms of HAI range from headaches and fatigue to being short of breath even while resting, and can be fatal.

The chambers provide controlled oxygen to the body and can simulate a descent of 1,500 m to   2,500 m, helping to minimize HAI symptoms and the likelihood of death. 

“The idea came from our instructor Sue Fairburn,” says Dansereau. “We had to do a lot of research on it because none of us had any previous knowledge of what it was. It was a very big investment research-wise, understanding what it does and how it works.”

The students spent Monday to Friday from opening to closing campus hours working on the design for the hyperbaric chamber. It involved experimentation along with interviewing experts in mountain medicine, inflatables, and manufacturing. 

“We were constantly researching and reading, evaluating and re-evaluating, just to make sure that we came up with a solution,” says Martins.

Being recognized for all their work is particularly validating because of how much time they spent working on the project, she says.

The Alta hyperbaric chamber weighs 5.12 lbs, making it 33.5 per cent lighter than the currently lightest available chamber on the market, the Ultra-Lite Gamow. Creating a lighter product was a priority for the students, as accessibility appeals to hikers. 

“The rolltop feature on it came from our want to eliminate the zipper because that was one of the heavier points on the other models currently on the market,” says Dansereau.

“We wanted to reduce weight significantly because that’s, to our understanding, one of the reasons why hyperbaric chambers are not used as much currently.”

While the students had experience working with other commercial equipment and companies throughout their program, the hyperbaric chamber was completely new to the team. 

However, they worked together to overcome this challenge and completed the project on time.

“One of the biggest takeaways from this whole experience was having a diverse team with a variety of skills, and good communication played a key factor in our design process,” says Martins. 

Each year, third-year students from the product design program at the Wilson School of Design create commercial equipment in their studio class. Applications are still being accepted for the fall semester for the program

“I really enjoyed working together as a team,” says Dansereau. “We have a great group of people, and it was just a really great experience to be project coordinator and lead them, but also work together and produce something that can potentially help people in emergency situations.”