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ARCHIVED  December 1, 1997

Local inventor pitches big ideas, but costs, skeptics stymie growth

Princess Diana˜s death shocked the world, and since that night, people everywhere have speculated about the circumstances surrounding the car crash that took her life. Richard Weiler, founder of Loveland-based Dusenbury Research & Design Services, has done so, but as an inventor, he also has developed a product he says might have saved her life.
Weiler has built a passenger restraint system for cars he claims is much safer than air bags and seat belts. His invention is a thickly padded U-shaped bar that locks over the passenger˜s thighs and chest on impact, but then releases pneumatically so the passenger can push it away and get free of the car.
The device has no latches, no buckles and no automation, Weiler said. It will restrain the passenger in an accident, but the bar˜s shape and operation will help prevent injuries sometimes caused by air bags and seat belts in high-speed collisions. And because it˜s not mechanical, it can˜t malfunction like air bags, he says.
Weiler suspects that the chauffeur driving the princess and her companion grazed the side of the tunnel or another car at high speed causing the air bag to deploy prematurely and the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
"When I designed my system, I worked with Los Angeles firemen who have seen first-hand what seat belts and air bags can do to people ," he said. "In a high-speed crash, they can cause a lot of damage.
"Air bags can go off after just a slight deceleration, before the person has stopped driving, he added. "The auto companies say they save more lives than they lose, but they˜ve done a great disservice by making them mandatory. Maybe the death of such a famous person will make them take another look at what they˜re doing."
Weiler˜s restraint system is one of several projects the local inventor is working on and is among the most promising, he said.
For decades, Weiler worked in the prime-mover industry primarily designing controls and safety equipment for ships, submarines, military and commercial aircraft, even the space shuttle. Since Weiler came to Colorado in 1973, he˜s worked at Woodward Governor Co., Teledyne Inc., Lockheed-Martin Corp. and Hach Co. Burned out on the work he was doing, he took a teaching position at Larimer County VoTech, now Front Range Community College.
He thoroughly enjoyed working with his engineering students, some of whom were exceptionally bright, he said. He started involving students in some of his own projects, and it was while he was teaching, in 1990, that he founded Dusenbury.
Weiler retired from teaching in 1992 and since has designed several inventions with an emphasis on safety and the environment. He works out of his home in Masonville and has no employees. Instead, he contracts with other engineers locally and around the country to work with him on various projects. Weiler currently has about 20 projects on the table. He has invested heavily in some of them and filed for patents, though none has generated any income yet.
"It˜s a long shot," he said of inventing. "I do it because I enjoy it, not for the money. What I enjoy most is coming up with new design concepts, and since my focus for so many years was safety, it˜s what I still think about."
In addition to the auto-restraint device Weiler has an enormous project, of which he is particularly proud.
Imagine this: an ocean-going vessel bigger than anything ever built that could harness the energy of a hurricane and prevent it from hitting land. Weiler has designed it. He˜s worked on the project since 1993 and engaged several other engineers in the process.
Ostensibly, the huge vessel — one mile in diameter, 1,300 feet deep and powered by a ring of vertical axis and hydroelectric turbines that convert high winds to energy — would attach itself to the edge of the hurricane and extract the storm˜s energy at certain points and in certain quantities. By sucking the storm˜s energy — about 500 trillion horsepower according to Weiler — and causing the storm˜s pressure to drop on one side, the vessel could pull the storm out to sea and away from the coast.
Energy collected from the storm would be used to propel the vessel, mine minerals and remove contaminants from the ocean — an advantage Weiler sees as key in light of the precarious condition of our environment.
Weiler˜s convinced it would work but says that a structure of the size and scope he has in mind would cost about a trillion dollars to produce. Not surprisingly, he hasn˜t had any takers.
"A trillion dollars was an unthinkable amount of money a short time ago, but now it˜s possible," Weiler said. "The problem is that no agency capable of doing this has realized the potential this project has."
Another Weiler invention that draws on similar technology is his aircraft-stabilization system. The system uses forward-motion air to drive a gyrodynamic generator that would stabilize the plane "during encounters with wind shear, micro bursts and other control problems leading to catastrophic failure."
Weiler said that officials at the Federal Aviation Administration and scientists from the Department of Transportation acknowledge that the system would work to prevent aircraft pitch and roll and nose-down crashes and provide auxiliary power. It would fit any plane and offer an unprecedented safety measure, but again, the cost is prohibitive.
"Right now it˜s too expensive," Weiler said. "It would probably cost about $100 million to build, test and prove this system on one plane."
Weiler laments the fact that many of his ideas, while sound, are simply too costly to implement. "I suppose I should start my next invention by whittling on a stick of wood," he said.
But he isn˜t looking for the big payoff, and neither are his associates.
Dale Scott, a retired Los Angeles County fireman who worked with Weiler on the auto-restraint system and regards him as one of the smartest men he˜s ever known, said they˜re not looking to produce the product themselves or make a lot of money off of it.
"We˜d like to find someone to take on the project and then serve as consultants," Scott said. "We˜re not in this to make a financial killing. We˜d like to be compensated, but mostly we˜re interested in saving lives.
Scott is zealous in his war against air bags and seat belts.
"Seat belts basically came from airplanes," he said. "I don˜t think the auto industry took time to look at other ideas before adopting them, because in a high-speed collision, they can cause serious internal injury.
"And air bags have always been frightening. They have so much power and so many chemicals they can really hurt you and even burn you. Now they say don˜t put your kids in the front seat because the air bag can kill them. But what if you have a pickup?"
Scott said that most of Weiler˜s ideas concern people˜s safety, but the question is how much is a life worth? — What is the practicality of some of these ideas, and will the people who could make them a reality take them seriously?
Weiler and Scott have invested about $20,000 and built a prototype of the auto-restraint system, but the invention is not yet ready for manufacture.
Weiler markets his inventions on the Web and is prolific in his correspondence to potentially interested parties. He writes to anyone he thinks might further his cause. Right now, he is focused on the search for venture capital for his auto-restraint system.
"We know we can find a company to help us," he said. Though he estimates that it would take $50 million to get the invention to market.
While he waits for someone to bite on one of his designs, Weiler continues to play with ideas, because it˜s what he enjoys.
"Where some of this stuff goes is borderline Star Trek," he said. "But these are viable ideas, and I˜d almost give them away, if I was sure someone would follow through on their development."
Challenge: Building a company capable of developing and marketing inventions.Solution: Realize that inventing a product is a shot in the dark. Make sure that there˜s a market for your invention before you start, and remember that if you˜re inventing something just to make money, it˜s influenced by other factors right from the start.

Princess Diana˜s death shocked the world, and since that night, people everywhere have speculated about the circumstances surrounding the car crash that took her life. Richard Weiler, founder of Loveland-based Dusenbury Research & Design Services, has done so, but as an inventor, he also has developed a product he says might have saved her life.
Weiler has built a passenger restraint system for cars he claims is much safer than air bags and seat belts. His invention is a thickly padded U-shaped bar that locks over the passenger˜s thighs and chest on impact, but then releases pneumatically so the passenger…

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