A Device to Deter a Bear

An abandoned way to frighten a frightening animal
by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff

These drawings tell the purpose and the workings of a machine called a “pop-up device for deterring an attacking animal such as a bear,” invented by Adam Warwick Bell of San Francisco and Anthony Victor Saunders of London. Mr. Bell is a patent attorney and a biochemist. Mr. Saunders is a mountain climber who walked atop Mount Everest (which, let us be clear, does not have bears at its summit) and other mountains, and often returned in reasonably good health.

The drawings are part of Bell and Saunders’s U.S. patent application (#10/634719), which they filed on August 5, 2003, and which, on June 7, 2005, the Patent Office declared to be “abandoned.”

The application includes this summary:
A device carried by the human hiker that comprises a pop-up (preferably inflatable) figure that is large and may be rapidly deployed by the user. The figure is meant to scare away an attacking or aggressive animal such as a bear. The activation of the pop-up figure may be accompanied by noises and/or smells and/or projectiles and/or smoke.The inventors say that their methods “may be applied to many different kinds of animal such as elk, moose, mountain lions, buffalo, hippopotamus, rhino, elephant, boar and other animals that are known to be dangerous to man.”

“The Invention,” they explain, “works on the principle of maximizing the apparent size and ferocity of the human, intimidating the bear (or other animal) and making it retreat from an encounter it fears losing.”

Bell and Saunders see quickness as being important:
The device increases rapidly in size, thereby scaring the animal and deterring the attack upon the user…. Inflation should be very rapid… the figure should be fully inflated within less than 1 minute, or within less than 30 seconds or preferably within less than 10 seconds or most preferably within less than 5 seconds.

Figure 1: Sequence of events showing (a) a hiker hiking (b) a hiker encountering a bear (c) the hiker activating the device of the invention (d) the bear fleeing in terror.” This sparely worded sentence from the patent application barely hints at some of the many alternatives to bells and whistles—both of which are explicitly mentioned, in the document, as being prior, inferior technology—that the inventors envision as enhancements to the basic invention.

“The pop-up device may be carried by the hiker in any convenient manner,” say Bell and Saunders:
It may be carried as a self-contained unit that could be placed in a back-pack or side pocket of a knapsack... or carried in the hand... or incorporated into clothing or luggage... [or] incorporated into the hilt of a walking-stick.

The incorporated-into-a-knapsack version, especially, has a James-Bond-ness about it:
[W]hen confronted by a bear, the device could be quickly and easily activated by the hiker by pulling a cord. The figure would inflate and pop up out of the back-pack, presenting the attacking bear with a huge and frightening figure of an opponent, and optionally, concomitantly producing noises and/or smells and/or projectiles and/or smoke....

[The] pop-up figure may be separate from the back- pack or detachable from the backpack and may be left in place, between the human and the bear as the human retreats.

Deterrent Noises
The invention makes use of a noise or noises:
The activation of the device may additionally include a simultaneous noise, such as one or more explosive “bangs,” a fog-horn, or a loud roaring sound or a screaming sound meant to frighten, disorientate or startle the attacking bear.... [F]or example, one may chose a noise that resembled a deep and very loud roar, or an ear-splitting claxon.

Figure 2: The device immediately after deployment.

Deterrent Odors
The invention makes use of biological smells:
[The] deployment of the device may be
accompanied by an odor, such as the odor of a male (or female) bear, or a strong sulphurous or ammoniacal odor. For example, the musky odor of a bear would enhance the credibility of the ruse, and help convince the attacking bear that he is being faced with a very powerful, aggressive and musky opponent.

The inventors suggest an alternate, or perhaps additional, type of odorant, and perhaps using some means to direct its flow in some particular direction:
A gas or liquid-such as a pepper-spray type liquid or an odorous or noxious gas or liquid, could be sprayed at the threatening animal using a container, such as a pressurized container, optionally using an aiming device.

Smoke, Too
The inventors gave thought to smoking the bear. They write:
[T]he deployment of the device may be accompanied by the production of smoke that would confuse, startle or disorientate an aggressive bear or other dangerous animal. Smoke may be produced from a typical “smoke-bomb” type of device, which is a chemical, pyrotechnic composition, which when ignited produces smoke, which may be coloured....

Safety appears to be evermost in Bell and Saunders’s minds, as here when they immediately add:
When using a pyrotechnic-type smoke bomb, it may be desirable to minimize the risk of fire by shielding any heat or fire generating element from the environment....

A few sentences later, the reader is almost forced to envision what seems an elaborate, stylized dance involving three figures, one of whom vanishes stage left, leaving the other two to contemplate their next move:
The smoke-producing device may be combined with [the] pop-up figure that is also detachable and may be left in place, between the human and the bear as the human retreats.

Figure 3: The device can emit noxious smells and sounds, as indicated graphically here.

And Projectiles
Near the end of the patent application, Bell and Saunders also toss in a little something extra to toss out:
Additionally, the deployment of the device may be accompanied by the launching of projectiles. [This] would further confuse, scare, and disorientate the bear. Such projectiles could be launched from a mortar or mortar-type device.

If you want to try building your own version of this device, and to do it using purchased components: there’s at least one inflatable bear head on the market.


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2011 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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I'm thinking I could do pretty well at the Boxing Day Sales if I had a couple of those to deploy in cases of extreme bargain. Could probably do without the smelly stuff though.
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