BY TOMOKO ADACHI STAFF WRITER
Shoji Tanaka, president of Cosmopower Co., displays Noah disaster evacuation shelters that are nearing completion. (Tomoko Adachi)Shoji Tanaka, the president of Cosmopower Co., sits in a Noah evacuation shelter. (Tomoko Adachi)
HIRATSUKA, Kanagawa Prefecture -- A tiny local factory here is attracting national attention with a spherical-shaped personal evacuation shelter for use in natural disasters.
The device, called Noah, is made of glass fiber reinforced plastic.
In less than a month since Cosmopower Co. unveiled its first model, the company has received 500 orders.
The Hiratsuka-based outfit, with only 10 employees, specializes in research and development of eco-friendly products.
The basic model can accommodate four adults, who sit holding on to a bar for support. The sphere weighs 70 kilograms and is 1.2 meters in diameter. It is priced at 288,000 yen ($3,770).
Cosmopower plans to produce larger models, one 1.5 meters in diameter for six people and another 2.5 meters in diameter for 12 people.
The economy of size means the shelters can be stored in the garden or at home.
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic is a lightweight, extremely strong and robust material used in the manufacture of pleasure craft and motorcycle helmets, among other items.
The spherical shape makes it even stronger.
Like a "daruma" doll, which automatically rights itself, Noah requires ballast. This ensures that it will maintain its balance and stay afloat, even if carried away by tsunami.
The shelter has a small window and two air ducts on the top. It comes in one color--bright yellow--so that it will stand out in an emergency.
The shelter is a brainchild of Shoji Tanaka, the president of the company.
Tanaka, 66, came up with the idea of the shelter four years ago and posted his concept on the Internet. He wanted to produce a device that can withstand substantial battering caused by sudden torrential downpours, flooding, landslides and typhoons.
The company was inundated with inquiries after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. Tanaka produced a prototype in April and decided there was sufficient demand to produce the spheres in bulk.
It was subjected to rigorous testing to mimic the impact of falling masonry and being swept off steep ledges. One test involved dropping a 100-kilogram iron block on the device. In another, the sphere was dropped into water from a height of 10 meters.
The shelter withstood everything that was thrown at it.
The first model for mass production was completed on Sept. 5. It is now undergoing separate shock and strength tests by an outside organization.
At some point, the company plans to test the shelter with people inside.
"Everyone has been groping for ways to protect the lives of family members since the March 11 disaster," Tanaka said. "I hope the Noah shelters will serve as a contemporary version of Noah's Ark."