Compact portable, reduced oxygen breathing device (ROBD) for hypoxia training

The Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device (ROBD) represents the first significant innovation in hy-poxia training since Charles Lindbergh used the Mayo Clinic’s original high altitude chamber to test “bail-out bottles” for WWII pilots. The safe, portable, and relatively economical ROBD helps save lives and prevents the loss of aircraft, and is fundamentally changing the way the Navy pro-vides survival training to jet pilots. The ROBD is being transitioned back to the military through an exclusive licensing agreement between the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory (NAMRL) and Environics, Inc.Hypoxia, lack of oxygen to the brain, can result from a loss in cabin pressure or a malfunctioning oxygen supply, and the pilot has only seconds to recognize what is happening and respond to this life-or-death situation. Until now, altitude pres-sure chambers have been the only way to train aviators to recognize the symptoms. While the training has been reasonably effective, it is ex-pensive, inconvenient, and carries remote health risks such as decompression sickness and rup-tured eardrums. With the ROBD, trainees can be exposed to hypoxia outside the chamber using a standard aviation mask, gas reservoir system, and a unique software program that adds nitro-gen to breathing air. With no external change in air pressure, there is no risk of barotrauma. Studies at NAMRL have shown that test subjects using the ROBD experi-ence the same responses to hypoxia as they do in the altitude chamber. At about $25,000 per portable unit, as opposed to as much as $1.5 million for a fixed chamber, training is much more economical and accessible.The second critical advantage of the ROBD is its ability to be integrated into flight simulators. This allows pi-lots to receive hypoxia training accord-ing to the simulator-physiology (SIMPHYS) concept, which takes training normally conduct-ed in a classroom and brings it to the simula-tor in order to present realistic scenarios. In the chamber, aviators are given writing assignments and puzzles to monitor their cognitive responses. But with the ROBD, according to aeromedical safety officer Lt. Ellis Gayles, pilots are “engaged in something that they would be doing during a mission, and then we sneak the hypoxia in, just like it happens in the aircraft.”NAVAIR PMA-205 has committed approxi-mately $1 million to purchase units from Envi-ronics for use at all eight of the Naval Survival Training Institute’s Aviation Survival Training Centers. The device also has possible applications and significant commercial potential be-yond the military. Alaska Airlines is exploring incorporating the device into its training regi-men, and recently put 32 pilots and flight at-tendants through a successful hypoxia training program using the ROBD. Eclipse Aviation, manufacturer of the latest generation of very light jets, has purchased an ROBD system and is including hypoxia training in the purchase price of its jets; Eclipse currently has about 700 or-ders for light jets from private owners/operators.
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