Beam of Life: Laser cuts steel in seconds, improving odds of surviving an accident.

The anxiety of being trapped in a vehicle after a horrific accident can be made worse by the deafening noise of equipment and sections of steel being pulled apart. Those days may soon be over, however, with the development of a laser cutting system originally created by the military for use in the field.

majors John Benjamin, ’11, of Fortville, and Adam Odgaard, ’11, of Indianapolis, are working to bring their Beam of Life Device (BOLD) laser system to market by 2012. The project is among many in Military 2 Market (M2M), a partnership between Ball State and the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, located in southern Indiana.

With a name that explains the product’s impact, BOLD promises to revolutionize extrication equipment and procedures by replacing cutting blades and piston-rod hydraulic tools currently used by the vast majority of emergency rescue teams around the world.

“The first time we saw the system being used at Crane, we both thought this is something that could easily change the way accident victims are cut out of vehicles,” Benjamin says. “It cuts through a few inches of steel in just seconds. Emergency personnel want to get the victim to the hospital in the golden hour, or the first 60 minutes after an accident, in order to improve a person’s ability to survive.”

The device requires less space, weighs hundreds of pounds less, is easier to wield, and faster to step up and activate than current hydraulic systems, including the Jaws of Life.

Fast and Quiet

“The key is that our system is quiet, making almost no noise as it slices through steel while allowing emergency personnel to talk with the victim,” Odgaard said. “Hydraulic systems are very noisy as they pull steel apart.”

One person can carry BOLD as opposed to hydraulic systems, which require several trained personnel along with the large generator usually housed on another truck. The system also produces fewer if any sparks—key to improving safety at accidents and disasters where fuel tanks may have ruptured.

The device should have a wide clientele. Research by Benjamin and Odgaard found citywide fire departments in 276 U.S. communities with populations of 100,000 or more. In central Indiana, there are 72 emergency departments or agencies.

The students are currently working with an Indiana firm to develop the prototype and then move ahead with manufacturing in the coming months. The unit will be less expensive than the majority of existing products on the market. 

The project got a boost in March 2011, receiving national attention when Benjamin and Odgaard won the Fan Favorite Award at the Wake Forest business plan competition, whose participants included MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, among others. BOLD received 948 votes as part of the competition’s online contest.

Military Partnership

Military 2 Market is bringing BOLD, simulated skin, and other technology to civilians. The relationship fulfills the military’s commitment to commercialize patents developed at Crane as well as at various installations around the world. Ball State students select potential products from government patents and intellectual properties, then develop commercial applications.

The partnership provides students with coaching from Navy technology transfer officers, laboratory scientists, and entrepreneurship faculty and mentors.

“Our relationship with Crane gives students opportunities to work with some of America’s best scientists and engineers,” says Michael Goldsby, the nationally recognized Entrepreneurship Center’s executive director and Stoops distinguished professor of entrepreneurship. The center is a part of the Miller College of Business. “In return, the public gets products developed by Ball State and Department of Defense.”

Senior Sweat

Like other M2M participants, Benjamin and Odgaard plan to create a startup company as soon as they complete their bachelor’s degree requirements in 2011. The pair will submit a business plan as part of the entrepreneurship program’s E-Day (Evaluation Day).

A key feature of E-Day is a final pass-or fail-review that requires seniors to put their degrees on the line when their business plans are scrutinized by a group of top business leaders just days before graduation. If they pass, students go on to receive their diplomas. Failure requires them to return the next year with a new or revised plan, or to seek another degree.

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"The key is that our system is quiet, making almost no noise as it slices through steel while allowing emergency personnel to talk with the victim."

—Adam Odgaard, '11