Forget flares. Next time you're in trouble, send up a balloon

A device now seeking funding on Kickstarter offers a better way to get help when you need it -- by sending a helium balloon 150 feet in the air.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Hoist a helium balloon for your own "rescue party." Screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

We've all seen the movie. A character gets lost at sea or deep in the woods and he or she shoots a flare into the air. It glows brightly, fizzles out and then -- nothing. A cold, lonely night accompanied by poignant violin-heavy music ensues. The next day, rescue helicopters zip by overhead but they can't find the person bobbing in the ocean or sitting on a mountaintop because he or she is just too small to spot from up above.

If the Rescue Me Balloon has its way on Kickstarter, Hollywood might have to start rewriting those kind of films.

The smart device comes in a plastic waterproof canister measuring about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, so it stows easily in a car's glove compartment or in a cubbyhole on a boat. It weighs about a quarter of a pound and has a clip that attaches to belt loops or backpacks.

When you feel you need of a bit of rescuing, you open the canister, and pull a tab from the base of the balloon inside to activate a flashing 1,000-lumen 10-watt LED light, which the inventors say can be seen from two miles away. Then you twist the base and a helium cartridge fills the balloon, which rises 150 feet into the air. The balloon, measuring 21 inches in diameter, is made from high-grade plastic and remains attached to the canister by a monofilament line, so you can clip it to your life raft, your tent or yourself. The balloon will stay aloft and the light will stay flashing for seven days, giving you ample opportunity to be spotted by a rescue crew. The makers told me that the balloon is reusable with a new helium cartridge, which they will sell.

This little canister could someday lead to a big rescue. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET
You can also use the device for less emergency-oriented applications like marking your campsite before a day hike or announcing your location at a festival to friends who might be looking for you. There is a separate "recreational" canister for this purpose that will shoot up a green balloon with a steady -- not blinking -- light so as not to alert rescue crews. (Don't need the police rushing to your location at the next Burning Man festival, now do you?)

The emergency Rescue Me Balloon can be ordered through the Kickstarter campaign for $40 (about £25, AU$46) and the recreational one can be had for $50 (about £32, AU$56). The inventors are seeking to raise a total of $100,000, with products expected to ship in April 2015.