Firefighters are trained to go into burning buildings, but even with all of this training, they can get disoriented in the pandemonium around them. Hateya, Belgium’s finalist for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2013, says this is a leading cause of deaths among firefighters and a problem that technology can prevent. The team developed a system that uses a helmet with augmented reality glasses, as well as a small computer and sensors inside the firefighters’ clothing to keep track of his location. To find his way out, the firefighter would just have to follow the arrows that will appear on the glasses.
The system works autonomously and just a click of a button built into the clothing enables what Hateya calls the “ComeBack” system. Because it’s being used indoors, GPS would obviously not work to get precise location data, so in the current prototype, the system measures the steps a firefighter takes inside the building and a compass to determine the route somebody took inside a building. This approach, the team argues, is very accurate, though they are also looking into alternatives to make the positioning even more precise.
The four Haute Ecole De La Ville De Liège students behind this project are already testing this project with a number of fire companies in Belgium.
Even though the ComeBack unit can easily work on its own, Hateya also added another component to the system that makes it far more capable by creating both a mesh network between the different ComeBack devices when there are multiple firefighters in a building. In addition, there is a “back office” application that a supervisor outside of the burning building can use to get a full picture of the situation, including information about the location of every crew member. In its current iteration, the system uses Wi-Fi, but the idea is to use more conventional radio technology with a wider range in the next iteration.
In the next version of their system, the students want to enable more two-way communications systems that would, for example, allow a supervisor to plot a route of a building when the original way was blocked, as well as a video feed that will give those outside the building an even better idea of the situation inside.