By Conor McCue

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – West Metro firefighters got a glimpse at what could be the future of public safety Tuesday. It was all part of a competition to see which product prototypes help firefighters best navigate dangerous conditions.

West Metro firefighters test safety product prototypes. (credit: CBS)

All of the devices were incorporated in the firefighter’s gear and involved haptic technology, which involves using a vibration or touch sensation to communicate which direction to go in a dangerous or hectic situation.

Four teams of developers from around the country came to compete in the event sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The goal was for developers to get the firefighters in and out of a smoky building the quickest at West Metro Fire Rescue’s training center.

(credit: CBS)

The winning developer will be awarded $25,000 after a panel of judges makes its decision.

“We’re really just allowing that technology, which in this case was in my glove, to tell me, ‘do I go left? Do I go right?’” explained Ct. Todd Heinl, with West Metro Fire Rescue.

In the future, those vibrations could be an alternative to radio communication or going into a building blind. Often, firefighters use their hands to feel around and find their way when it’s dark and smoky, Heinl said.

(credit: CBS)

“It has to be something that we’re not relying solely on but is going to enhance our ability to get the job done,” he said.

Prototypes tested by developers on Tuesday delivered the vibrations through helmets and jacket liners. A vibration on the left side of a sensor told a firefighter to turn left, while a vibration on the right signaled a necessary right turn.

“None of it is anything you’ll see on the market tomorrow, but what we’re trying to do is generate these new companies and these new innovators that want to get involved in public safety and take this technology forward so it will be available for them in the next five to 10 years,” said Dereck Orr, Division Chief with the Public Safety Communications Research Division at NIST.

(credit: CBS)

As expected, developers had some kinks to work out on some of the prototypes. Others functioned exactly as they were supposed to.

As of now, it’s technology that’s a long way from your neighborhood fire station, but could one day save lives.

“I think it can definitely improve our ability to help the community, make them safer, and get them out of a difficult situation,” said Heinl.

Conor McCue


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