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‘It could help save their lives,’ B.C. university helping develop new, high-tech body armour

The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus continues to be a hotbed of high-tech innovation. The latest project has UBCO teaming up with the University of Victoria and the University of Alberta, as well as other industry partners, to help save the lives of Canadian combat soldiers.

In a non-descript cement block building in Kelowna’s airport industrial area, a gun fires a 9-mm bullet.

That non-descript building is UBC Okanagan’s ballistics research facility, and lab tech Ryan Mandau is testing out bullet-proof vest materials.

“We picked 9-mm testing for the armour because it’s so standard,” Mandau said.

“We want to make sure that it doesn’t penetrate all the way through the armour.”

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After the bullet is fired and the all-clear is announced, Mandau walked down range and picked the flattened slug out of the polyethylene material.

“The No. 1 thing that armour should do first is disrupt the bullet as much as possible,” said Mandau.

The ballistics research being performed at the lab is an integral part of a $1.5 million multi-partner project funded by the Department of National Defence.

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It’s a project with a goal of helping save the lives of Canadian combat soldiers, and it’s being researched at UBCO’s Survive and Thrive lab.

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“We are going to improve both the comfort and the protection of soldiers in the Dept. of National Defence,” said Kevin Golovin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBCO.

The aim is to innovate a futuristic new body armour, using the Comfort-Optimized Materials for Operational Resilience, Thermal transport and Survivability or COMFORTS for short.

“The idea is that we would have them protected and comfortable, regardless of the situation,” Golovin said.

Essentially, it’s a kit of gear for Canadians in combat that will provide multiple layers of protection against multiple threats.

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“From ballistic protection hazardous gases, chemical protection and thermal — both extreme cold and extreme heat — all those are going to working together,” said Golovin.

“And there will sensors throughout to detect all aspects of that to provide safety and comfort to the user.”

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While the COMFORTS project is funded for three years, the Canadian military is hoping that this research becomes reality as soon as possible.

“They can’t wait to get their hands on anything we are producing, because it could help save their lives potentially,” Golovin said.

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