By Erin Rose Handy
Fourth-year Engineering student Aaron Coret divides his time between courses in UBC’s Integrated Engineering (IGEN) program and nurturing his startup business, Katal Innovations.
IGEN, the newest UBC Engineering undergraduate program, provides a broad-based, multidisciplinary education through hands-on courses in which students design, build and test projects that span different engineering disciplines. Through IGEN, students gain real-life design and project-management experience.
Born from a fourth-year design course in the IGEN program, Katal Innovations’ main product is a unique inflatable structure designed to provide a safe training mechanism for freestyle snowboarders; its creators have dubbed it “The Landing Pad.”
“Over the past 20 years, snowboarding has evolved from a small group of riders crowded around early generation half-pipes to a mainstream industry with terrain parks at every resort and a large following of people who are absolutely obsessed with it,” says Coret.
“The idea came from our obsession with pushing the sport ourselves. The most exciting thing about snowboarding or surfing or any sport is getting better and succeeding and doing well…about progressing to higher levels… but sometimes you get hurt.”
With an ever-increasing number of people packing into terrain parks, attempting bigger and more difficult tricks, the risk for injury increases. Jump landings in the terrain park are on hardpack at best, and more often than not, near-solid ice.
By ensuring a safer landing, the Katal—named after the SI unit of catalytic activity or progress—Landing Pad allows boarders to try harder tricks, to push their abilities in a safe environment and to progress in their sport.
Unlike other inflatable devices that serve as a giant pillow for boarders to land on, Katal’s unique ramp-shape and patent-pending design enable a rider to continue movement downhill if landing successfully, or to cushion the fall by deflating in case of an unsuccessful landing.
“If you try to design the most ideal system for assisting safe freestyle progression, the obvious answer is a perfectly shaped terrain park jump with a powder landing that could renew itself after every rider puts a track into it after landing, so it’s always perfect for the next rider,” says Coret. “That is impossible in nature, so we designed the next best thing. That’s essentially what the Landing Pad was designed to be, a renewable powder landing.”
Coret admits that he had long seen the need for such a safety innovation in snowboarding, but it was not until his IGEN project assignment coincided with a life-changing injury that he and his teammate/business partner Stephen Slen (BASC ’07) took the Landing Pad from concept to design.
In 2005, during his third year of studies at UBC, Coret broke his neck in a snowboarding accident on the highest-level terrain park on the Whistler Blackcomb Glacier. Now a C5/C6 quadriplegic, Coret gets around in a motorized wheelchair.
“After my accident, I devoted time to this project—time that I would’ve previously spent snowboarding,” says Coret.“This project is directly inspired by my desire to give something back to the sport I love so much.”
The original design of the Landing Pad was almost entirely based on experiments with air mattresses and small prototypes due to difficulty in modelling air flow in an inflated container under impact. Experiments, prototype construction and testing was time-consuming and consequently the original 15¢ ´ 20¢ design was submitted for the IGEN design course a bit after the due date in 2007.
“Late delivery usually results in a deduction from the final grade,” said one of the course instructors, “but we were so impressed with the effort and ingenuity involved in getting the prototype built and getting it to perform that we forgot about deducting marks.”
Although the prototype worked as expected, Coret and Slen weren’t satisfied. They continued to refine the product, and Katal Innovations’ 30′ x 75′ second-phase design provided a successful full-scale proof of the concept.
The summer 2008 tests at Blackcomb Glacier can be seen on the promo video at www.katalinnovations.com.
The company’s third-phase design—at roughly 51′ x 90′ and nearly double the size of the second-phase concept ramp seen on the video—will be heading on tour this year and is available for use at special-event bookings.
“If it wasn’t for the design courses in IGEN, we never would have had the opportunity, the time or the support to realize this dream. The emphasis on hands-on design experience was the major reason I enrolled in the program,” says Coret. “Thanks to this experience, we now have the opportunity to improve our sport and to help others.”