A recently published USPTO filing describes a wearable distress device that emits smoke to give out a person’s location. The device is said to be simple to use, and carries a low risk of harm to the wearer.
Fig. 1. A wearable distress device in assembled form.
The device comprises a smoke generating unit connected to a circuit with a battery, a switch, and a filament. Operating the switch heats the filament and triggers the smoke generating unit and opens a portion of its enclosure. This smoke outlet wall, made out of heat-reactive material, may burn or melt away to enable the distress signal to escape from the device.
Fig. 2. This is an exploded view of the wearable distress device described in the patent application.
The device enclosure  is made of thermoplastic or other polymeric material. It may be derived from renewable resources such as starch, cellulose, or vegetable oils.
The smoke outlet wall  is the sacrificial portion of the thermoplastic assembly. It is meant to melt or burn away upon triggering a distress signal. Alternatively, it may be made of molded pulp or waxed cardboard.
The smoke generating unit  is made to fit the enclosure without play by a cardboard compressible pad . The unit would be housed in a separate chamber  to prevent smoke from spreading within the device.
A cotton pad  keeps the filament  pressed against the smoke generating unit.
A battery  is connected to the filament and a switch . The device may generate a warning via light, sound, or vibration if the voltage in the battery, which may be rechargeable, is detected to be below a predetermined threshold.
The mechanism is activated via a push button  that is over-molded by a button  with a watertight seal.
The patent application says the smoke generating unit, which may come in the form of a smoke pellet or cartridge, may be configured to generate smoke of a particular color. Following internationally recognized distress signals, the smoke would be orange-colored.
The wearable distress device’s waterproofing points to its potential use at sea. Smoke signals are among the mandatory life-saving appliances for ships, along with life jackets and flares.
Though not explicitly stated by the inventor, the technology is likely aimed at saving lives at one of the world’s most dangerous workplaces. Marine accidents caused 1,163 deaths and $197 million in insured losses in 2017, the latest year covered by Swiss Re maritime loss data.
Accidents in the ocean are common, costly, and deadly—a reality not bound to change any time soon, given the world’s dependence on marine resources. But perhaps the introduction of a small, wearable gadget at sea could make a big difference for a number of unfortunate marooned souls.
The featured patent application, “Wearable Distress Device”, was filed with the USPTO on March 13, 2020 and published thereafter on September 16, 2021. The listed applicant is Designer Karolina Adolfsson. The listed inventor is Anna Karolina Adolfsson.