Miracle Aliens-style indoor comms built for firefighters
Trail of relay routers auto-laid from belt dispensers
So you're a firefighter of the near future. Your fire truck pulls up outside a burning building, and sure enough it turns out there are people still inside needing rescue. Firing up your breathing apparatus and unlimbering your axe, you charge in like generations of heroes before you.
Here's where it gets different, though. In the truck or command vehicle, fire chiefs can see a moving icon in movie style which shows exactly where you are - probably on a 3D building map pulled from city archives. Better still, your commanders can also see near-real-time medical telemetry from sensors in your uniform, just like the Colonial Marines in scientifiction movie classic Aliens. If you succumb to the heat or smoke, or otherwise get injured, they'll know and more rescuers can be despatched.
But wait: this isn't realistic, as anyone with experience of wireless networking will know. Battery-powered radios often struggle to penetrate walls, let alone multiple walls and floors of reinforced concrete full of rebar as we may well have here. Unlike the mobile network, the incident command vehicle cannot rely on a network of masts all around the site and cannot easily reach in through different windows - and even if it could, air full of flame, hot smoke and spraying water is not a friendly radio environment.
But your navigation and medical-monitor gear is still in touch with your command. How?
Here's how. On your belt is an automated dispenser holding several small, waterproof, fireproof battery powered relay routers. As you plunge deeper into the stricken building - perhaps charging up some stairs, interposing a barrier between you and the command vehicle antenna - the equipment notes your diminishing signal strength and your belt rig, without input from you, drops a relay to preserve communications. If it should get kicked, firehosed or otherwise inadvertently relocated, the network of dropped podules scattered through the building reconfigures itself automatically to route around any outages if this is physically possible.
All this kit is actually a reality right now, according to the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology directorate. The S&T boffins call the navigation package the Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER). The Aliens-style medical telemetry rig is known as Physiological Health Assessment System for Emergency Responders (PHASER). The self-dropping relay widgets are dubbed Wireless Intelligent Sensor Platform for Emergency Responders, or WISPER, and use ZigBee.
“Throw in smoke, firehose mist, stairwells, and walls, and you’re down to maybe 10 kbps. But that’s fast enough to tell an incident commander the whereabouts and health of every firefighter in the blaze,” explains Jalal Mapar of DHS S&T’s Infrastructure Protection and Disaster Management Division. “We’re not streaming video that needs a lot of bandwidth, just vital signs and coordinates.”
The DHS boffins, having developed the kit with federal seed cash, hope that private manufacturers will now step in and get it into production for sale to fire departments.
Those interested can read more courtesy of DHS inhouse mag S&T Snapshots. ®
Great but what does the Dept of Homeland Stupidity want with it?
Great tech, will probably save lives but how will it help the DHS to fondle the genitalia of air travellers or torture Afghani taxi drivers?
This is not the same
Radio comms are OK for command and control--but this system (if it works) makes them far more effective... compare:
"Where are you, Jim?"
"Not sure...upstairs... wait third bedroom"
"Ummm Two rooms behind."
"Crap. Bob, turn left and go to the third bedroom"
"Crap somebody find Jim!"
WITH NEW GEAR:
"Bob you're two rooms behind Jim, go left--no your other left-- good pass two doors."
"Jim, your heart rate is up--you OK?"
"Jim get out now!"
"Bill, Jim is in trouble and he's three rooms down from you..." etc etc
Just knowing where your people are takes away a LOT of the fog of war (or smoke of fire)
A possibly less expensive alternative...
Why not equip them with (as partly mentioned above) with Android, phone-like devices (or, cheap phones if lack of fire-department dedication would adversely jack up the pricing). Add on top of those via the headphone jack a set of Vitals wires, sort of like what astro/Cosmonauts might wear. On top of that, add the appropriate softwared to feed the vitals to the phone and here, then, the signals go encrypted to a local phone tower..
In the Incident Command vehicle, the FD (or law enforcement) would have jack-in permissions to co-opt local cell towers in the name of Civil Defense and Disaster Response. They might have to pay a "rent fee", or the cell tower owners might be accorded tax offsets, or some sort of incentive to allow the FD/LE use to de-prioritize iPhoners and Androiders until the system stabilizes. Meanwhile, FD/LE usage in bigger cities shouldn't be a problem.
However, I can see where DHLS and LE and fire depts may want their own mobile units. There won't necessarily by towers out in the boonies where some miscreants or wanted individuals are holed-up. Also, the FD/PD having their own units means they are not at the mercy of a cell tower going out if some inebriated motorist crashes into a green box at the curb.