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Systems are now available for a wide variety of personnel-tracking applications. They currently meet requirements for security, urban training, corrections and personnel operating in indoor environments. For these applications, without any additional pre-installed infrastructure, the systems can accurately locate the floor and quadrant of a building in which a person is located. Additionally, early adopters in the fire community are beginning to deploy these tools in training environments and burn buildings to partner with companies as they complete development.
These early commercial deployments will keep the infrastructure-free indoor-location technology on the fast track for use by the end users for whom it was first imagined – firefighters. And because real-time awareness and increased “visibility” are so critical to what they do, firefighting agencies worldwide are waiting patiently, yet expectantly, for the technology to mature to a point where it meets the stringent requirements of a firefighting environment. The requirements are set high because the stakes are high – these location-tracking systems will be used in the most demanding firefighting environments.
In addition to what they learn from commercial deployments, the industry is being supported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to perform research and development to increase the accuracy of tracking systems to meet the high accuracies required by the firefighting environment. TRX is a member of one of the teams (along with Boeing/Argon ST and Thales) contributing to and supported by the first phase of the DHS Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER), which will deliver even more precision in support of first responder location and tracking.
Globe Manufacturing Co. has also teamed with TRX and Zephyr Technologies in a project called WASP, for Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform. WASP will integrate body-worn electronics into a base layer shirt and turnout gear to combine physiological monitoring and location and tracking technologies into one common system that may be easily deployed operationally for the fire service.
Indoor location relies on sensor technologies, including accelerometers, gyroscopes and altimeters, along with radio signals and map information. Many of these are the very sensors that are now being embedded in cellular and gaming devices. Driven by these large commercial markets, the performance of the underlying sensors is maturing rapidly and the costs are expected to decrease. Industry investments in ranging sensors are driving innovations that deliver accuracy even indoors, where obstacles can often interfere with signals to drive errors. In addition, accurate 3D building information models are becoming more and more widespread. Navigation fusion algorithms can use these sensor and mapping enhancements to deliver improved tracking accuracy. All of these market forces, along with the government and industry investments being made, are helping indoor-location technology to meet GLANSER requirements at what will be increasingly competitive price points.
Just as cell phones have turned into devices that let us do much more than talk to one another, infrastructure-free indoor-location systems will evolve into tools that enhance and change the way firefighters accomplish their tasks. Firefighters will be able to save time at the scene and make better decisions more quickly. But most importantly, these systems will help to save lives of firefighters and people they are trying to rescue.