My Big Idea: Making crash sites safer for rescue teams
After growing up around fire-fighters, product design graduate Ian Burnell came up with an idea for road safety equipment that protects teams working at collision sites. The 24-year-old part-time rock-climbing instructor explains how he is making his own job in the competitive product design industry.
"I began developing my idea two years ago, as part of my final-year project for a Product Design degree in DIT. Now I'm making a career out of it.
"My dad works for the fire brigade, so I have always had lots of exposure to that industry and knew they are always looking for improved safety equipment, particularly when it comes to road-traffic accidents. Fire brigade teams are responsible for dealing with the mechanics of accidents and they are generally first on the scene.
"Fire brigade teams are most concerned by the 'send-off' process – where they set up cordons and road diversions immediately after an accident happens.
"Crews have a "golden hour" when people are most likely to survive if they get to a hospital. But the send-off process can take a long time, particularly on very busy roads. Teams are trying to divert cars that are screaming by at 120kmph, often at night or in bad weather. The first moments, when the crew step off the truck are the most dangerous. The crew's own safety is at risk. Neither they nor the traffic have much time to react.
"That's where my product comes in. My Enhanced Emergency Lighting Barrier is an illuminated road block that lights up as it is carried, acting as a barrier even while being set up. It can be lifted by just one person and, once set up, it has an arrow mechanism to direct traffic.
"Building something that really responded to the needs of rescue teams was the biggest challenge. It is easy to make something shiny and complicated that looks good on paper, but producing something simple, straightforward and effective is more difficult.
"I'm not interested in running my own business yet as I want to focus on product design, so rather than go into production I am licensing the idea out. Licensing can take many forms – an upfront fee, a royalty system, a percentage of sales. I have yet to hammer that out.
"I have support from DIT Hothouse, the university's Technology Transfer Office, which helps develop the commercial viability of university research. We started looking for bids only recently but have lots of interest.
"The product can also be adapted for a wider audience. A smaller version could be carried by truck drivers or normal car users. The red triangles lots of people carry to use when parked on the hard shoulder are pretty useless, especially at night.
"The product design industry is highly competitive with very few jobs in Ireland. But I'm proud to be making my own job in it."