Would you wear what Astronauts slip into?

By : |February 24, 2016 0
Wanderers into Space. Explorers on Earth. Now there’s one more thing that dissolves their differences apart from the gift of having itchy feet. It’s Aerogel

Pratima H

USA: Water Filters, Exoskeletons, Z-series spacesuits, Ear thermometers, and Robots; well NASA stuff is not always ‘up’ there. It can trickle down into our lives more frequently and deeply than we realize. Innovation spin-offs from a think-tank like this are definitely tempting and a welcome addition to everyday applications. But they are seldom the plug-and-play terrestrials that we wish them to be. They face light years of their own kind when they try to traverse the distance from a space-ship to the ground floor back here.

Aerogel seems to be another new toy on this very block. The wonder material which manages to be solid yet translucent, synthetic, light, easy (99.8 percent air), less dense, low on thermal conductivity, and the ideal insulator, has graced space-suits and wheels like Rovers in a powerful way.

                                 

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Understandably, companies want to tap its unique strengths for making mundane human-wear and accoutrements not so mundane. Like Oros, which is working on a winter gear using Aerogel. This might include pants, gloves, hats, and a warm jacket merely three millimeters thin but just as warm as a 40 millimeter goose down jacket, the company tells. Oros also launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $310,000 towards a larger $1 million funding goal.

It is being touted as the wear apt to climb Mt. Everest, go skiing, winter camping or just staying warm at a ski lodge patio and as per Michael Markesbery, founder of Oros, this performance apparel is going to change the way people experience the outdoors.

Apparently, the gear has already gone through tests amidst mountains in Nepal, and been blasted with liquid nitrogen (negative 321 degrees Fahrenheit), with no one getting too hot or too cold. Close on the heels of the company’s first attempt with this concept in the form of Lukla, this jacket is being claimed to have been vastly improved, weighing 2.5 pounds, staying 38 per cent lighter than the first-generation jacket, and maintaining strong factors like being waterproof, windproof etc.

But would it stay goof-proof? Would it be able to iron out kinks of all flavours – commercial, industrial, consumer-related, and others with enough insulation between potential and pitfalls?

We get Rithvik Venna, Co-Founder, Oros to help us gravitate to some answers and some insights on what has been missed and what could work with the concept this time.

Founders : Massimiliano Squire, Michael Markesbery, Rithvik Venna (L-R)

Founders : Massimiliano Squire, Michael Markesbery, Rithvik Venna (L-R)


What lessons or take-aways from NASA projects have been blended in or tink-ed out from this product?

Other performance gear companies have tried using aerogel in apparel. Most of them failed, with the main problem being overheating. We learned from their mistakes, controlled the placement, allocation, and thickness of the aerogel in our garments.

Any major tweaks that this concept undergoes from a space-context to an everyday-normal-life context?

When compared to what NASA has used, there here have been many major changes that we made in our aerogel technology. The most important mod is: NASA utilized legacy aerogel which is a fantastic insulator, super light weight, and 99.9 per cent air (that is the substance that you find when you search “aerogel” in google images). The issue with legacy aerogel is that it is not at all flexible and it is brittle to the point that almost any contact with it would cause it to crumble. Not great for apparel.

The Marvel Marble: AerogelAerogel, Oros

The Marvel Marble: Aerogel


In the mid-2000’s a company called Aspen Aerogels partnered with NASA to create blankets of aerogel that allowed for increased flexibility and marginally higher durability. The issue with using this for apparel is that it sheds aerogel particles when agitated (particles are a skin irritant that dries out skin). To solve this you had to encapsulate the blankets, which is ok but severely limits breathability and adds weight; but it works for apparel. For OROS our goal was to disrupt the outerwear space, so we worked to change the formulation process to create our proprietary Solarcore aerogel which has the insulation power of conventional aerogel but it closely resembles thin foam so it is extremely flexible and durable. More importantly, it doesn’t shed so it is lighter weight and more breathable.

Do aspects like commercial viability, scalability, manufacturing ease, ecosystem, applications, weight-insulation trade-offs, fundamental differences between body constitution/physiology between space and earth environments etc work well with NASA-spin-offs? Any lessons from the X1 exoskeleton or other space concepts?

In our instance, there are many similarities between what NASA’s needs were with regards to keeping people warm. The main difference was we needed to create a more functional and less extreme product. We’ve been able to achieve an entry to the market that because there is a lapse in the market and a significant need for a better, warmer, and smarter insulation.

How affordable, safe, easy to don, breathe-able, moisture/pressure-vulnerable, warmth-durable, configurable/bespoke-able, convenient, low-maintenance, compressible and ecosystem-and-eco-friendly would these outerwear ideas be? Would they hold well in extreme temperature fluctuations?

Aerogel manufacturing has become relatively affordable and our Solarcore is extremely flexible, breathable, durable and warm because it’s purpose-built for apparel needs, like I mentioned earlier. Machine-washable too and we haven’t discovered any ecologically negative implications of using aerogel.

Utilizing strategic placement of aerogel, the breathability of our aerogel and mechanical methods of adjusting to temperature fluctuations (ventilation, pit zips etc) we’ve made our products functional between 50F down to (-40F).

Aerogel Gloves

Also, graphene and aerogel work together in the glove wonderfully. The graphene is one atom thick, stronger than steel and one of the most conductive materials on earth (so it makes things feel warmer- conducts the heat of your body inside the glove). The aerogel is extremely thin and very light and is one of the least conductive materials on the planet (so it does not let your heat out nor does it let the cold in). Graphene with the aerogel combined offers quite a self-heating glove that keeps generating warmth – and no batteries.

Any specific segments that would be ripe for this concept: Sports, Adventure, Fashion-conscious user, industrial wear, fire/military personnel etc? How would this one be different from offerings that the likes of Silver Shield, Hanesbrands, Faction etc have or what is being worked around hydrophobic down or Dry.Q?

Well, we’ve found applications for our technology in our consumer line OROS, the military (we’ve received POs from the Navy Seals and the soldier system center), and in the workwear industry (we are working with market leaders Cintas and Fechheimer to develop various products for industrial workers, firefighters, police, etc).

The Hanesbrand jacket was never produced for consumer use, it was only used for a seven-man expedition to summit Everest. Those climbers complained of overheating, on Everest! We learned from their shortcomings to mitigate overheating that allowed us to accommodate such a wide range of temperatures.

We are different from any type of goose or synthetic down because they require loft to maintain their insulation power. That loft is what causes the puffy, Michelin man look. Aerogel doesn’t require loft so we can create a much thinner profile jacket that is equally or even warmer than a jacket insulated with down.

Tell us something about the Kickstarter angle here.

Kickstarter is special to us because it is where we first launched our line of products, in March of 2015. We felt it was only fair to bring our newest products back to those consumers who believed in us from the beginning. Kickstarter is also a unique place for people to showcase their new ideas and innovations on a larger scale and that allows for greater exposure.

What else is coming up as exciting from your portfolio?

We are currently developing new products that utilize creative uses of aerogels to make warmth possible but in an even lighter, sleeker, and thinner form. Things such as quarter-zips, hoodies, t-shirts, yoga pants, etc; that can someday replace jackets as a whole.

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