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Dr. Bob Lyons

Location: Ottawa, ON

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Survival & Safety

Year: 2004

Innovation:

Conceived and patented Safety Turtle, a potentially life-saving wristband for children. The wireless device triggers a remote alarm when immersed in water such as a swimming pool or lake. Adaptable to protect pets, seniors, disabled persons, man overboard and as a flood alert.

News Release

Safety Turtle® Helps Protect Toddlers from Drowning Accidents

Ottawa inventor of personal wireless alarm wins $10,000 Manning Award

Calgary, AB (September 13, 2004) - Safety Turtle® is a personal wireless alarm system designed to protect young children from drowning or serious injury in backyard swimming pools, lakes and other water hazards. Unlike other alarms that are triggered when a person enters a swimming pool area, the Safety Turtle system goes with and safeguards the child wherever he or she goes.

Inventor Bob Lyons, President of Terrapin Communications Inc. of Ottawa, Ont., has won a prestigious $10,000 Manning Innovation Award, sponsored by Noranda Inc., for his safety innovation that is helping to protect children, seniors, disabled persons and even pets from drowning.

Lyons, who has a PhD from Carleton University in Ottawa, has 25 years' experience developing analog and digital communications systems and products.

As a parent, he knows that a toddler can drown in the time it takes to answer the phone.

His Safety Turtle system includes a locking wristband, designed in the shape of a colourful turtle that is worn on the child's wrist. The wristband instantly detects immersion in water and sends a radio signal to a base station in the home, sounding a loud alarm. The Safety Turtle is designed so that rain and spray from lawn sprinklers won't trigger the alarm, but a toddler wading into a pool or lake will.

"Safety Turtle is the only alarm that works in a shared pool setting," Lyons says. "And wherever the child goes, Safety Turtle follows."

Swimming pools are a lot of fun. But they can also be deadly places for young children. Each year, among children ages 4 and under, there are approximately 400 residential swimming pool drownings and 3,000 near-drownings in Canada and the U.S., according to public health figures.

The best protection against such a tragedy is the constant supervision by the parent or adult, Lyons says. Homeowners should also secure their swimming pool, ideally with a four-sided pool safety fence with self-latching gate.

Ottawa grandparents Jack and Dorothy Hobbs always use Safety Turtle at their lakeside cottage, as a backup to keeping an eye on their three young grandchildren and to help protect other kids who visit. "It has given us security and peace of mind. We know it works and will work if needed," Jack says.

Lyons launched Safety Turtle in 1998. Terrapin Communications is now selling approximately 20,000 units per year in North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Latin America.

The product (www.safetyturtle.com) has been featured three times on Oprah Winfrey's popular TV show, has been recommended by the Good Housekeeping Institute, and has been displayed as one of Canada's brightest innovations at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Safety Turtle meets all government safety requirements for young children, and the extended-range, dual-alarm version complies with the ASTM Standard for Pool Alarms.

Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program (www.manningawards.ca) has encouraged and rewarded leading Canadian innovators with more than $3 million in prize money. This year's four major winners, being announced throughout September, will share a total of $145,000. All will be honoured at the annual gala awards dinner Oct. 1 in Vancouver.

For more information about the award-winning Safety Turtle, please visit www.safetyturtle.com or contact Bob Lyons at (613)-271-0050 or email: lyons@terrapin.ca

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Manning Innovation Award, Sponsored by Noranda Inc.

Bob Lyons, Safety Turtle®


As a parent with a keen interest in accident prevention, Bob Lyons knows that a child can drown in the time it takes to answer a phone.

"It's a big problem and it can happen to the average family with a backyard pool," he says.

"People think they're keeping an eye on their kids, but it's not adequate. Managing risk requires a layers-of-protection approach."

Lyons, who has a PhD in electrical engineering from Carleton University, has 25 years' experience developing analog and digital communications systems and products. He co-founded Square Peg Communications, a manufacturer of mobile satellite communications equipment.

Lyons conceived the idea of a personal alarm that could be worn by children and would, if they entered a water hazard, alert their parents or other adults nearby. By 1997, he had developed a "wireless alert" system that transmits a one-way radio signal from a water sensor to a receiver, or base station, 30 metres away. He formed Terrapin Communications, Inc. to bring his invention to market. (A terrapin is a North American freshwater turtle.)

In November 1998, after testing his production prototypes with local families who had young children and backyard swimming pools, Lyons officially launched his product at the International Pool & Spa Expo in New Orleans.

Swimming pools can be lots of fun. But they can also be deadly places for young children.

Each year, among children ages 4 and under, there are approximately 400 residential swimming pool drownings and 3,000 near-drownings in Canada and the U.S., according to public health figures. About one-third of the accidents occur at the homes of friends, neighbours or relatives.

Studies show that a "lapse of supervision" — those few moments of inattention — is always a contributing factor in the drowning accident of a young child. "Once they're in the water, you certainly don't hear anything because they don't cry out," Lyons says.

The best safeguard against such a tragedy is the constant supervision by the parent or adult. Ensure your swimming pool is secured, ideally with a four-sided pool safety fence with self-latching gate.

But gates are sometimes accidentally left open. And even state-of-the-art, laser beam perimeter or sonar pool-intrusion alarms are turned off when the pool is in use. One-third of backyard pool drownings and accidents involving toddlers, as well as all drownings and accidents that occur in condominium and hotel pools, happen when the pool is intentionally open for use, Lyons notes.

Unlike alarms meant for a specific pool area, "Safety Turtle is the only alarm that works in a shared pool setting," he says. "And wherever the child goes, Safety Turtle follows."

The key to Safety Turtle's technology is the design of its patented electronic water sensor, co-invented by Lyons and John Bodie, a co-founder of Terrapin, and Doug George, a long-time friend and associate. The sensor requires very little battery power, and it instantly activates a loud and continuous alarm whenever one-third to one-half of the Turtle is immersed in water. This means rain and spray from lawn sprinklers won't easily trigger the alarm, but a toddler wading into a water hazard will.

Lyons credits Scott Gibson of Gibson Product Design in Ottawa for the idea of enclosing the sensor in a colourful, turtle-shaped wristband that kids are eager to wear. Each Safety Turtle wristband locks securely around the child's wrist, and the parent keeps the key to the lock.

Turning Safety Turtle from a bright idea to a commercial product also needed the marketing talents of Alex Turnbull, a co-founder of Terrapin, and Bill Kiss, vice-president of engineering at Ridgeway Research Corporation (now part of BreconRidge Manufacturing Solutions Corporation in Ottawa).

Terrapin also received about $500,000 in funding from the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program and from Technology Partnerships Canada.

Since launching Safety Turtle six years ago, Terrapin has continued to develop the product to address new market requirements and opportunities.

The company now offers a commercial/extended range system that activates an alarm both at the water hazard and inside a building up to 300 metres away. This system can be used at hotels, condominium and day cares, as well as at larger estate homes and waterfront properties.

In another application, a Safety Turtle attached to a visor helps protect seniors and disabled persons at home and in rehabilitation settings. Safety Turtle is also used in ice-rescue training. There's even a version that attaches to collars to help protect dogs or cats from drowning in pools.

Terrapin is also working with other manufacturers on new applications for the Safety Turtle technology, including as a remote flood monitor and a system to shut off boat engine propellers to prevent serious injury when someone falls overboard.

Lyons says his biggest challenge in bringing his innovation to market was the initial resistance he met from potential distributors and buyers.

He learned that this is frequently the case for new safety products, especially those for children. People worry that something new won't work, will make them liable if it doesn't work, or might make the situation worse. As an example, he cites the long time it took to get automakers and the public to accept car seat belts and child care seats, even though studies showed these products do save lives.

Fortunately, Safety Turtle has won over some powerful supporters. Oprah Winfrey has featured the product on her popular TV show three times, Lyons says, adding: "When Oprah speaks, people listen."

Safety Turtle is also one of three pool alarms (of eight evaluated) recommended by the Good Housekeeping Institute. The Pool Search planning guides in 2000 and 2001 selected Safety Turtle as Editor's Choice for the single best product of the year. The product was also displayed in the Innovation Canada exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Terrapin is now selling approximately 20,000 Safety Turtle units per year in North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Latin America. Most are still purchased "after market," but in-ground pool builders are starting to include the system with their new pools.

The suggested retail price is $208 for the base station and $98 for each wristband. The weatherproof carrying bag and battery pack accessory for the base station sells for $159.

Safety Turtle meets all government safety requirements for children, and the extended-range, dual-alarm system complies with the ASTM Standard for Pool Alarms.

Lyons has written articles and given seminars on pool alarms and protecting toddlers near backyard pools. He says his greatest satisfaction is the letters and emails he gets from parents who say Safety Turtle helped or will help save their children's lives. One such note, from Troy Taglienti, a young father in Phoenix, Arizona says it all: "If all other measures should fail and a child falls into a pool, having a Safety Turtle on their wrist is the best chance they have of surviving."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Bob Lyons, President


Phone: (613)-271-0050

Email: lyons@terrapin.ca

Website:www.safetyturtle.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca