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Voices underground

The RockPhone helps communicate in difficult situations. In photo: A silhouette of a miner.For miners who are trapped underground, maintaining a vital communications link with would-be rescuers and loved ones can be critical to their survival.

It was just this sort of emergency mining situation in West Virginia a few years ago that prompted Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems to develop an innovative new way of battling earth, vegetation and even rock, to ensure the connection of voices, and minds, in challenging situations.

Today, Ultra’s Magneto Inductive RockPhone, which successfully uses a magnetic system to send voice signals where radio signals do not work, is fast emerging from local production lines to help health and safety experts at home and abroad better manage all sorts of difficult terrain and situations.

In fact, the new RockPhone is just the latest product to emerge from Ultra’s unique invention of magnetic systems, with its associated line of products already in use by military and rescue teams to communicate – under water, in underground caves, from subway tunnels, and even through ice.

“With the RockPhone, we’re definitely getting interest from several different markets, but the main one is the first responder teams who are looking to use this technology to help save lives,” says Jim Hanlon, President of the ISO 9001-certified, Nova Scotia-based company that is fast becoming a world leader in communications, surveillance, defence and security systems.

First established in 1947, the company already sells a myriad of unique products around the world and looks forward to seeing the RockPhone join the ranks of its other popular products including acoustic sensors dropped from aircraft and towed sonar systems to track submarines.

Jim says that assistance from ACOA has been critical in helping the Company cover capital equipment costs, reach international markets and develop new innovative products like the RockPhone.

“Our research and development is customer-driven, so new initiatives can be risky for us without some assistance,” explains Jim. “The investment of $2.8 million from ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund has been hugely valuable to the development of this new product  and we appreciate all the marketing advice we’ve been offered through ACOA, which has also been key to our success.”

While it can’t move mountains, Ultra’s latest innovation can certainly move voices through them, and keep human connections alive against seemingly impossible odds.

Editor’s note: Ultra Electronics recently took part in an ACOA-led trade-building mission to Chile, to raise the profile of Atlantic defence suppliers with Latin America’s naval defence industry.

Published in 2010