The 33 men trapped in the Chilean mine for two months were exposed to extreme conditions, including poor air quality and 90-degree heat, which left rescuers desperate for real-time information about the miners' health.
An Annapolis company, Zephyr Technology, helped fill the data void. Zephyr, a 30-person firm, provided the digital tools that allowed rescuers a half-mile above them to monitor the miners' conditions over the last month.
Zephyr makes the BioHarness, a chest strap with digital sensors and wireless technology that monitor and transmit the wearer's vital signs. The device has been adopted by NASA for use by astronauts during training.
Asher Gendelman, Zephyr's vice president of marketing, said Wednesday that the company had sent 15 of the devices, plus an engineer, to Chile to assist a sports physician working with the miners to keep them healthy. Gendelman said the BioHarness measures heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature, body positioning and activity.
"The big objective was to ensure the miners weren't dehydrating," Gendelman said.
Rescuers sent the BioHarnesses as well as a laptop computer and a small video camera down into the collapsed mine through a bore hole. The miners took turns exercising and wearing the devices, which sent data to the computer.
The miners used the video camera to display the computer screen to the physician, who monitored the video feed from the surface and offered advice to the miners.
Zephyr was founded in New Zealand three years ago and moved its headquarters to Annapolis a year later. More than a month ago, company officials approached the New Zealand Embassy in Washington to offer its technology to the Chilean government, Gendelman said.
The company has been happy so far with the BioHarness's performance in the mine. Miners also have been wearing the devices during their dramatic rescue via a cylindrical pod this week.
"It's done everything they've needed it to do and then some down there," Gendelman said of the BioHarness.