Firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. A typical mission can mean walking through smoke and fire, in extreme heat, looking for people trapped in burning rooms and saving them. Well, not exactly looking: most of the time firefighters are walking through a zero-visibility environment, barely able to distinguish between walls, their colleagues and the victims. A new operating system incorporating augmented reality technology, developed for wearable devices, promises to change this.
C-Thru OS: Augmented Reality Technology Superimposes Thermal Images on Lenses
In recent years, firefighters have been equipped with thermal vision cameras which offer X-ray type images of the environment they walk through. But these cameras are usually handheld–and this is a major drawback. Firefighters need to have their hands free to open doors, lift up unconscious victims and sometimes even save their own lives.
The concept developed by Qwake Technologies leaves the firefighters’ hands free and attaches the thermal vision camera to their helmet. Using augmented reality technology, a computer module receives the thermal images and then superimposes them on the lenses of the firefighters’ combo mask and goggles.
The images are streamlined to the command & control center, which has the main C-Thru operating system and computer module installed, allowing team leaders to observe the firefighters’ action in real time and coordinate the entire team.
The system (still under development) currently offers the following features:
- Edge detection
- Hot Spot ID
- Fire event recording
- Live streaming
The Qwake Technologies team promises that C-Thru will soon be capable of object recognition and flow path tracking.
X-Ray Vision Simplifies Decision Making, Helps Save More Lives
The C-Thru operating system and the AR lenses are designed to make firefighter focus more on the tasks at hand, by simplifying their mental processes from analyzing minimal visuals to just observing the environment around them.
In extremely stressful situations, a person’s brain processing power decreases. C-Thru incorporates both neuroscience principles and computer vision to lift the image processing load off the firefighters’ mind, giving them basic and clear outlines of the objects around them. This allows them to focus on mission-critical tasks.
Practical Tests Demonstrate C-Thru Efficiency
The C-Thru OS was put to a practical test by firefighters at the Palo Alto Menlo Park Fire Training Facility. The results of the test were impressive. The team of 8 firefighters monitored during the 24 runs drill demonstrated:
- 267% increase in speed during the mission
- 300% increase in consistency
One of the fire engineers involved in the test, John Renner, shared his impressions of using C-thru: “That was incredible. We don’t usually get time with the thermal camera. We usually do the search typically by hand and an anchor set by the fire captain.”
Easy to Implement
C-Thru is software as a service (SaaS), meaning that specialized equipment manufacturers can easily adapt their products to make them compatible with this operating system. C-Thru is expected to grow more complex and reliable and become a standard element of firefighters’ work, just like augmented reality technology has become an integral part of other professions.