8 Start-ups Fighting Back Against Natural Disasters
Emergency Shelter: Reaction Housing SystemDisaster-Proof Your Files: ioSafeSuperhuman Exoskeleton: CyberdyneLaying Water Pipes With Helicopters: TOHLAll-in-One Emergency Packages: ShelterBoxSoftware in a Time of Need: Recovers.orgHospital Data in Real Time: Beyond Lucid TechnologiesSolar Villages: Green Horizon Manufacturing
Last week Hurricane Sandy tore up the East Coast, wrecking homes, businesses, cars, and pretty much anything in its path. North America is no stranger to destruction, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (recovery pictured at left). Nature's whim is often unpredictable, but some entrepreneurs believe we can hedge against the damage with smart innovation. These eight companies are on the front lines of creating tomorrow's disaster-scenario technology.
Michael McDaniel, a designer and the founder of Austin-based Reaction Housing System, was horrified by what he saw during Hurricane Katrina, and set out to design an emergency shelter that was affordable, easy to transport, and safe. So starting in 2005, McDaniel began designing the Exo in his spare time, an 80-square-foot shelter that sleeps four people. The Exo was designed specifically for rapid deployment--the units are transported in just two pieces, and can be assembled in minutes. The Exo costs $5,000, compared to a FEMA trailer, at $65,000.
In the event of contact with a fire or floodwaters, your computer--and all its contents--could be wiped clean. ioSafe, which provides disaster-proof hardware, is essentially an aircraft blackbox for your computer files. The company, based in Auburn, California, patented fireproof and waterproof materials to house hardware and data systems. One of the company's most popular products, which was funded by a campaign on IndieGoGo, the ioSafe N2, withstands fires up to 1,500 degrees, and can be submerged in 10 feet of water for 72 hours. Starting at $900 for two terabytes of storage, the device is actually cheaper than most cloud-based systems.
By the time machinery arrives to pull people from the wreckage of a fallen house or building, it can be too late. Cyberdyne, a Japanese start-up founded in 2004, has invented HAL, a robotic exoskeleton robot that can increase a human's strength by a factor of 10. When the wearer attempts to move, "nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motoneurons, moving the musculoskeletal system as a consequence." In other words, the robot works with its wearer to increase strength. The suit weighs about 50 lbs and comes with a battery pack that lasts nearly three hours. Cyberdyne, which has raised about $75 million in capital, debuted HAL in October 2012.
Founded by four college students in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, TOHL--which stands for Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics--is hoping to reinvent the way water is delivered to communities that need it most. The company has invented a transportable water pipeline, which is suspended from a helicopter. This way, a water supply from a nearby city can quickly, easily, and cheaply be transported to communities affected natural disaster and whose water supply has been cut off. The four-person company received a $40,000 investment from Start-up Chile in April 2012, and used Kickstarter to successfully raise another $30,000 in September 2012.
In the aftermath of a disaster, many victims are left with just the clothes on their backs. That's where ShelterBox steps in. Founded in 2000 by former Royal Navy search-and-rescue diver Tom Henderson, ShelterBox delivers 49-gallon green containers filled with survival supplies to the displaced or homeless. Tailored to the location and nature of the disaster, each "box" typically contains: a tent designed to withstand extreme temperatures, thermal blankets, a water purification kit, a stove and cooking utensils, basic tools, and a children's activity pack. Headquartered in Cornwall, U.K., ShelterBox has responded to nearly 200 natural and man-made disasters across 75 countries.
After a tornado ripped through their hometown in 2011, sisters Caitria and Morgan O'Neill built online platform Recovers.org to help communities handle disaster recovery. Backed by the Knight Enterprise Fund and the MIT Ideas Competition, the start-up creates websites for disaster-stricken communities. On the sites, users can receive news updates, track volunteer events, and donate. The first Recovers website made its debut in April 2012 after a tornado hit Forney, Texas. It raised $30,000 in donations. Recovers.org recently launched a site for New York City's Lower East Side in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
During a chaotic ambulance run, vital patient information scrawled on paper can be lost. To prevent that problem, Jonathon Feit and Christian Witt started Beyond Lucid in 2009. Based in Walnut Creek, California, the healthcare IT start-up which has raised about $500,000, helps first responders--firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel--send digitized data to hospitals in real-time. Using Beyond Lucid's cloud-based Mediview software, users can transmit photos and other media of patient documentation.
Shocked after Hurricane Katrina destroyed entire neighborhoods, James Pope founded Green Horizon Manufacturing in 2007 to build and provide practical relief shelters. The San Francisco start-up recently inked a $25 million deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and began shipping its solar-powered shelter QuickHab to disaster-hit communities. Each unit is equipped with a water-heater, a shower, a toilet and a kitchenette.
Written by: Eric Markowitz & Kathleen Kim