Compared to car airbags that need to inflate immediately, the airbags that skiers wear to avoid being buried in an avalanche don't necessarily need to inflate as fast. So Black Diamond's new JetForce backpack uses a fan instead of compressed air which means not only can you try it out beforehand, it's also cheap and easy to reset.
But don't think the JetForce is only targeted at those who don't want to pay for another canister of compressed gas after they've used it. The pack's fan system actually has some other key advantages. Once you pull the cord in an emergency, a rechargeable battery-powered fan roars to life at full power for nine seconds to inflate the airbag (it usually takes around a second or two to fully inflate) and keep it fully pressurised while you're being tossed about in an avalanche.
After that, for a full minute, the fan alternates between full power and half power to keep the 200 litre airbag inflated and to compensate for any tears—up to fifteen centimetres in size—that might be leaking air. For the two minutes following that, the fan only sporadically turns on to maintain pressure and volume in the airbag, essentially giving the wearer a full three minutes of enhanced buoyancy which hopefully keeps them from being buried deep in an avalanche.
On a full charge the JetForce airbag can actually be deployed up to four times, and when the fans aren't running the only thing using the battery is a small LED light that indicates the charge status. Priced at around £600 a backpack featuring this emergency system isn't cheap, but price becomes a moot point when you realise it has the potential to actually save your life one day. [Black Diamond via The GearCaster]