As road crews in Alaska worked overtime to repair damage from a major earthquake on November 30, some 1,500 miles to the south, flyers lined the streets of the Mexico City neighborhood of La Condesa, touting an egg-shaped, life-saving capsule containing enough food for a month, should disaster strike.
The cost? A cool $10,000 USD for the top of the line model.
While neighborhoods such as La Condesa and Roma, where the 7.1 magnitude Puebla earthquake in September 2017 caused the most significant damage, continue to rebuild, there are still a handful of wall-less, half-standing buildings, through which passersby glimpse into empty apartments. Other structures remain in piles of rubble. But a young Mexican engineer thinks he has a partial solution to what he and others say is inevitable: the next big quake.
The answer, according to 32-year-old engineer Reynaldo Vela, comes in the form of a high-end “egg” currently being marketed to the rich and corporate clients. When you feel the ground start to shake, simply hop into the egg, close the latch, and you'll be safe, even if the building collapses on top of you. At least that‘s the pitch.
As El Universal reported earlier this year, the capsule, replete with seismic alert sensors and a GPS beacon, has been approved by the State of Mexico, the National Council on Science and Technology, and the Atzcapozalco campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, as well as “several laboratories and private organizations.“
The question, however, is whether the slick capsule will become a fixture in the corners of living rooms and offices of Mexico and beyond. As one longtime resident suggested, the device is simply too morbid—a glistening coffin from the future.
The egg, named Capsula K-107, has been in the works for eight years, Vela told me recently in an interview at his company’s office. Prior to the September 2017 quake, Vela added, only three of the capsules had sold. (A fourth unit, which he did not purchase, was in his own home, though he was out when the temblor hit.) Since then, he said he’s sold more than 110 of the units, with a waitlist that has resulted in a three- to five-month delay in shipments, all in Mexico. Image courtesy K-107
As for conditions inside the eggs, life is not exactly pleasant, though according to Vela, there are supplies that can last an individual up to a month. Moreover, depending on the model and the customer’s order, the egg will contain either one or two seats that closely resemble those of a stand-up rollercoaster where the inhabitants are essentially stand-sitting. The seat or seats are attached to a spring-loaded base that acts as a shock absorber in the case of a fall.
Each bicycle seat-like seat has a hole in the middle with a black bag that hangs below for easy urination and bowel alleviation. This bag contains liquid-absorbing polymers and chemicals to cover the smell of a days- or weeks-old deposit. The capsule also includes an ionizing air purifier and is outfitted with a water vapor condenser that collects liquid in a compartment for drinking. The unit can produce 400 milliliters per day, according to Vela, who said K-107 has plans for an international product aimed to be a life raft for all manner of natural disaster, be it a flood, fire, hurricane, or earthquake.
For now, each capsule is handmade in a small workshop manned by a handful of employees, in the Iztacalco borough near Mexico City International Airport. The company hopes to expand its production capabilities to 1,000 capsules per month, but for the time being can only make about 50 each month, according to Vela.
In an interview with Motherboard in the Capsula K-107 offices last month, Jorge Gabriel Ruiz Albarrán, a member of the famed Topos Tlatelolco rescue squad, called the capsule a “necessary device.” Topos, or “the moles,” formed during search efforts in the immediate aftermath of the 1985 earthquake. At the time we spoke, Ruiz Albarrán had just returned from a trip to the Philippines where he was helping search efforts following a typhoon and subsequent landslide.
Indeed, he and the Topos crew frequently travel the world to assist in rescue efforts, from Taiwan to Indonesia, Italy, and Haiti, and were even on the scene in New York City following the September 11 terrorist attacks. They are experts in locating and rescuing victims in collapsed buildings.
“People will be much more likely to survive and not leave it to chance,” Ruiz Albarrán said of Vela’s earthquake eggs. “It is a device that I think will help a lot.”
Even if it has yet to undergo the ultimate test: a real-life earthquake.
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