NIST contest looks for new IoT tech for first responders

COVID-19, fires, floods, and other disasters need new technology. NIST's CHARIoT Challenge is looking for the best ideas.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation on road

Image: Chalabala, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that we can't help first responders enough. They struggle with communication, old technology, lack of personal protective gear, and more. Bringing in new technology can help them perform better and faster. 

To that end, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently launched its CHARIoT Challenge, which calls on innovators and problem solvers to design new technologies that can leverage real-time Internet of Things (IoT) data so optimal decisions can be made that save lives in crisis. 

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"Our goal is to uncover technology solutions that will make it easier to guarantee public safety by tapping into IoT data that can be relayed to first responders," said Scott Ledgerwood, UIUX leader of Standards and Technology at NIST. Ledgerwood's role centers around the design of easy user interfaces for these new technologies.

A user friendly interface is critical in the middle of a crisis, since first responders don't have excess time to navigate through difficult application interfaces. "We want to develop user interfaces that are user friendly and that are fast to deliver actionable insights," Ledgerwood said.

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The CHARIoT challenge is targeted at many different first-responder situations—from coronavirus infection control to the control of floods, wildfires, mass transit incidents, and active shooters.

"In each of these scenarios, IoT sensors with endpoints such as cameras are capable of monitoring different aspects of an environment," Ledgerwood said. "You can monitor people at a given location or materials that are present. You can also track the locations of personnel."

Ledgerwood explained how the IoT sensors for first responders work. "As a first responder investigates a site, he or she has an augmented reality headset that adjusts as it takes in IoT data that the responder can use. This data informs responder decisions and promotes the safety of both the responders and the public."

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Ledgerwood gave the example of a flood. "With sensors distributed on the ground, first responders can quickly observe the displacement rate of the water that's moving through. The information is played to them in a holographic image that they see with their AR helmets. In this way, they immediately get a 10,000-foot view of the situation. It enables them to make rapid, informed decisions about how to direct a flood mitigation response or to take other actions that impact the public, such as closing roads."

In a wildfire scenario, weather information and wind speed can be relayed in real time to first responders. In a building floor plan, with the help of holographic images, first responders can see the areas of a building that are immediately impacted by a fire, although the first responders physically might not be able to see through the heavy smoke, which prevents visibility.

"The real-time data flows are a resilient means of coverage that can speed response and protect first responders," Ledgerwood said.

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Ledgerwood said a key focus of the year's CHARIoT challenge was to "look at various types of technologies that will have impact on first responders, and what to do to enable these technologies to help first responders over the next three to five years."

The technologies in CHARIoT are all in prototype stages, but as the prototypes inch forward, they get closer to reality. 

"We expect to see great prototypes this fall," Ledgerwood said. The technological advancements will produce new tools and solutions for pandemics, floods, wildfires, and any other difficult situation that first responders find themselves in.

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