A fair number of people have “Ah-ha!” moments, but how many actually take those nuggets of brilliance and pursue them?Â
One man –an inventor of sorts who I came to know because of the Sago disaster—has done just that.Â While watching the rescue efforts at theÂ WV Sago mineÂ unfold on television in early January 2006,Â this manÂ used his knowledge as a former Navy submariner to design and develop a tracking system for underground miners.Â His “Ah-ha!” moment and now application wasÂ recognized this month by Popular Science magazine as one of the top-ten inventions for 2008!Â (PopSci articleÂ here)
Announcing the award, the magazine editors note:
“The world needs help…but the solutions may well end up coming from the garages and basements next door.Â As the winners of PopSci’s 2ndÂ annual Invention Awards demonstrate, invention–even world changing invention–can happen anywhere there’s an idea and an endless drive toÂ see that idea made real.”
Congratulations to Russell andÂ Jay Breeding and Mike Millam ofÂ InSEeT System, who have shownÂ (not just talked about) their commitment to workers’ health and safety.Â
An article by Paula Schleis in the Akron Beacon-Journal called Ray of Hope for Mine DisastersÂ describes Russell Breeding’s “Ah-Ha!” moment which occurred while he watch CNN’s Larry King.
“King had asked a mining expert why they couldn’t locate 13 men trapped underground [at Sago], and was told the technology didn’t exist.Â Sitting in his home in Virginia Beach, Va., Breeding sat up and talked back to his television set: ”Yes, it does, and I know what it is.”
Breeding was referring to inertial navigation:
“which uses a computer and motion sensors to continuously track the position, orientation and velocity of a target without the need for external references.Â Inertial navigation is so exact, the system is used to guide missiles â like one used earlier this year to hit the fuel tank of a spy satellite 150 miles up.”
In contrast, global positioning satellite systems (GPS) “assigns every meter on the surface of the planet a unique address,” but they don’t work in the deep blue sea or in the dark as a dungeonÂ of an underground mine.Â Â
The Beacon-Journal’s Schleis introduces us to the three-man team which has been working on the inertial navigation system especially designed for useÂ in underground mines.Â
- Russell Breeding: anÂ electronics technician navigator on U.S. Navy nuclear submarinesÂ
- Mike Millam: a fellow U.S. Navy veteran
- Jay Breeding (Russell’s cousin): a businessman from Tuscarawas County, OhioÂ
In the two yearsÂ since Sago, theÂ men haveÂ been devoted to developing the tracking system, andÂ they’ve investedÂ more than $560,000 of their own resources.Â This includes thousands of hours of uncompensated time, and out-of-pockets costs for material, travel and licenses.Â The entire project to-date has been self-funded.Â
Just recently,Â the teamÂ secured a substantialÂ investment from JumpStart, a venture development group,Â which “identifies and invests in early-stage companies that have strong potential in the marketplace, solid prospects for high growth, and are likely to qualify for later-stage funding.”Â Because JumpStart is connected and committed toÂ theÂ Northeast Ohio communities, Russell Breeding has moved his family from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Akron.Â (His cousin Jay was already living in the Buckeye State.)
I was so pleased to read about JumpStart’s investment in the InSeT system, but I know that securing this funding has been a challenge for InSeT’s team of three.Â Â It would not have come without the menÂ already sinking $560,000 worth of your own time and resources into the project.Â Sticking with the “ah-ha!” moment-inspired project for more than two years takes a special kind of persistence —a persistence driven in large measure by belief that underground miners deserve a better chance at survival and rescue than they haveÂ now.Â Too bad the metrics used by NIOSH to award research grants couldn’t measure the value of this project.
As I’ve written previously (here), inÂ the fall 2006, NIOSH received $10 million in emergency supplemental funding âfor research to develop mine safety technologyâ and awarded nearly $5 million of it toÂ just one firm: the SYColeman Corporation. This company was selected by NIOSH forÂ two of the three awards for communication and tracking systems.Â
I’ve beenÂ tryingÂ since AugustÂ 2007Â to get aÂ simple questions answered byÂ NIOSH about part of its process for awarding these mine safety research grants.Â I learned that the grant proposals had been reviewed by a NIOSHâs technical review panel, whichÂ included non-government officials.Â I simply asked for theÂ names and affiliations of the individuals who served on panel.Â Â CDC/NIOSH denied my FOIA request, claiming that releasing this information would be an invasion of personal privacy and would interfere with the agency’s deliberative process.Â I disagree with their determination and I appealed their decision in February.Â MyÂ FOIA wait continues.
Despite a disappointing experience trying to obtain NIOSH funding, the InSeT team persisted without federal funding.Â Now, theyÂ can celebrate theÂ tremendous designation from PopSci magazineÂ hereÂ as a top ten invention for 2008!Â
As Russell Breeding has said to me and others:
“The ultimate reward will be when a mine disaster happens, the trapped miners are quickly found with our tracking system, and they all go home alive!”
Celeste Monforton, MPH worked with Davitt McAteer on the WV Governor’s investigation of the Sago Mine disaster.Â She first met Russell Breeding at a symposium in April 2006 in Wheeling, WV when his nugget of an idea for a tracking system was just coming together.Â She’s been watching from afar his progress launching this business.