Japanese Firms, Scholars Eye IT-Based Firefighter Uniforms

OSAKA, Oct. 12 (Kyodo) -- University researchers and Japanese firms are cooperating to develop new firefighter uniforms equipped with devices based on the latest information technology such as miniature cameras and devices to measure physical conditions to protect users' lives.

Led by Eiji Shimizu, a professor at the Takarazuka University of Art and Design in Osaka, the project is aimed at putting the uniforms into practical use in 2006 at the earliest.

The uniforms will have sensors to take the wearer's pulse and measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. They will also have microphones and devices to check the position of a firefighter. The devices will be connected to portable terminals embedded on the back of the uniforms, the developers said.

The terminals will transmit information to a command vehicle through wireless LANs and receive information such as instructions and maps sent from the vehicle.

A firefighter will be able to see the maps on a small display attached to the face guard, the developers said.

Though the wiring of the devices was conspicuous in the prototype, it will likely be embedded in the uniform using metal fiber with the cooperation of such firms as firefighter uniform maker Teikoku Sen-I Co., they said.

There are some challenges prior to the practical application of the uniforms.

One is improving the function of devices to figure out the positions of firefighters.

The developers adopted a sensor that confirms the position of a firefighter by the person's movement rather than using a global positioning system because a GPS is incapable of transmitting within buildings or underground malls.

Such a device is also used by U.S. troops when they engage in a battle inside a building, but it remains unclear how well the device can retain its accuracy at a confusing site.

The uniforms also need to be equipped with a high level of water and fire resistance.

''The uniforms need to conquer heat and water that become sources of trouble for the IT,'' said an official at Osaka-based Yamamoto Kogaku Co., which is cooperating in the development of face guards.

''Fire sites are dangerous and many people have been killed. I want to reduce the number of such people,'' said Takarazuka University's Shimizu.