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RCA Students Create Innovative Design Solutions for Safety at Sea

Following a three-month collaboration with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) – a charity that helps to protect life and property, and to support education, engineering-related research and public engagement – an interdisciplinary group of RCA students have created innovative prototypes aimed at saving lives at sea and on rivers. 

The project began with a week of intensive workshops during AcrossRCA in Autumn 2016. During this first week, the students were introduced to the challenge of improving the design of the standard pilot ladder. This ladder, used by ships' crews to embark and disembark large ocean-going ships, results in many fatalities and accidents worldwide. The design and construction of the ladder – which is specified by international regulation – hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Working together in groups of four, 30 students from different RCA programmes – including Innovation Design Engineering, Service Design, Architecture, Design Products, Information Experience Design, Visual Communication, History of Design, Global Innovation Design and Vehicle Design – set about updating the design of the pilot ladder.

During early brainstorming sessions, the students generated more than 100 ideas per group, before going on to refine just a few. One group designed a fastening system using 3D printed parts that would eliminate human error in the rigging process, while another created a light and durable ladder made of a single, continuous length of reinforced rubber composite with sections of varying flexibility to provide suspension for unpredictable movement of waves at sea and grip-able surfaces in wet weather.

In a parallel strategic design project, RCA students also developed lifesaving designs that help the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Port of London Authority to reduce the number of fatalities and accidental incidents on the river Thames.

One group created robot-like lifesavers called Ellys that would monitor the river from the banks of the Thames stationed under bridges, on the embankments and on the side of boats. If someone were to fall into the river, the closest Elly would detect it immediately and swim over to them in less than two minutes, while simultaneously sending a message to the nearest lifeboat station.

With a strong motor and compact body, the Elly automatically gives off heat and pumps itself up so the rescued person can hold on and keep warm. The Elly glows, so rescue crews can spot the person in need. They are designed to charge themselves automatically using tidal energy, and their detection ranges overlap, leaving no space on the water unmonitored.

During the project, the students developed their designs through field trips to the RNLI head quarters in Poole and Port of London Authority in Kent, and had the chance to meet and learn from experts in their fields. They each received detailed feedback from maritime experts from Lloyd’s Register, the UK Confidential Reporting Programme for Aviation and Maritime (CHIRP), International Maritime Pilots Association, the International Maritime Rescue Federation, the Foundation for Science and Technology, and NESTA. Autodesk Inc also supported development of prototypes through software and 3D printing facilities.

Two prizes were awarded at the exhibition opening: Dynaweb won Best Innovation; and Cross Lock System won Best Risk Reduction. A prize fund is also available for Best Market Potential, which will be awarded in partnership with InnovationRCA.

Professor Ashley Hall, Project Leader and Deputy Head of Innovation Design Engineering at the RCA says of the project: 'Safety in relation to safe ship boarding and around rivers is of global concern. Hundreds of people die each year as a result of unsafe practices, risky behaviours or lack of information and understanding. Our team of postgraduate designers, researchers and academics have worked together to research, design and develop new innovations that bring multidisciplinary innovative solutions targeting design risk and safety on water.'


The exhibition of eight of the students’ innovative prototypes is at Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s building, 71 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 4BS. The exhibition is open to the public 22–24 February 2017, 10am to 5pm. There will be free guided tours of the exhibition on Thursday 23 February & Friday 24 February at 4pm. Space is limited on these, so advance booking is recommended by emailing rsvp@rca.ac.uk.

The prototypes will also be exhibited at the International Marine Pilots Conference onboard HMS Wellington on 7 March; Lloyds Register Global Technology Centre Southampton on 10 March and RNLI Headquarters in Poole on April 19.