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Polar Bear vs Ice Cube

June 6, 2013

Former Technical director Roger Usherwood helps create the ‘Ice Cube’ for BBC documentary “Polar Bear Family and Me” which protected the presenter from a polar bear attack and got him closer to the action than ever before.

The television documentary “Polar Bear Family and Me” was an opportunity to get to see a real up close look at polar bears and how they live and survive in the Arctic Tundra. The documentary sees Gordon Buchanan track a polar bear family – mother Lyra and cubs Miki and Luca – in Svalbard over three seasons. In order to get closer than any camera man previously, an unusual piece of equipment was produced to aid their documentary. Former Technical Engineer at Russell Finex, Roger Usherwood, helped develop the Ice Cube, which helped Gordon to get the amazing footage of the polar bear, and perhaps the closest anyone will get to a polar bear that hasn’t been sedated.

The Ice Cube is a large pentagonal container manufactured out of aluminium and toughened plastic with lots of nuts and bolts. It has been designed specifically to resist polar bear attacks.But this engineering project only got off the ground several months prior to it being needed in the Arctic conditions. Usually product design takes around 6 –12 months – this took 2 months, 1 month designing and the next to manufacture the cube. The cube needed to be polar bear proof without any testing. The first problem that they faced was that in the harsh Arctic conditions where temperatures can drop below -40°C (-40°F) the metal structures would shrink. The great properties of aluminium mean that in comparison to other metals it is lightweight, which makes it easier to handle, but it’s also strong. In cold weather applications aluminium serves particularly well because despite contracting it actually gets stronger.

The plastic also had to be reinforced to support the bears weight and an attack. Another parameter that needed to be met was that it needed to be a flat pack design, as it had to be flown in by helicopter and assembled on the ice. Not an easy task in sub zero temperatures with big snow gloves.

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