The National Robotarium in Edinburgh, Scotland has developed a helmet that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help firefighters navigate in a smoke-filled environment, map their surroundings ,and ultimately rescue victims more quickly.
“Firefighters are heroes. Everyone knows that. But what we are doing is (…) we also want them to have this superhero ability: see through smoke, see through darkness and have this ability to find effective solutions for search and rescue,” said Chris Xiaoxuan Lu, Lecturer in Cyber-Physical Systems at the School of Informatics of the University of Edinburgh.
The device weighs less than 1 kg, is made of affordable, off-the-shelf components, and easily fits on standard firefighting helmets. It combines feeds from thermal cameras, radar, and inertial sensors to provide wearers with real-time information.
“It will definitely improve the safety for firefighters from multiple dimensions. We already talk about victim searching. We also talk about navigation together with all the sensor units.” said Lu. “In the long run, we will try to investigate what is the most efficient communication manner between the frontline firefighters to the outside chief commanders, so that all the systems can be even more efficient”.
The researchers worked with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to develop the technology and tested the design in their training facility.
“Our equipment can at times be restrictive in terms of what we have to do for searching. Add in any heat, dark smoke – having a thermal image capacity helps us massively in terms of location of someone,” said Watch Commander Glen Macaffer. “We can scan a room a lot better. We can take five to ten seconds compared to probably a couple of minutes when we wouldn’t have that technology. So for us to have that would be a massive game changer.”