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AI smart helmets could help firefighters improve rescue missions

Researchers in Scotland have developed a smart helmet for firefighters which uses integrated AI. This tech is intended to map out areas with low visibility and find victims faster.

Technology for the betterment of humanity is our favourite kind, and what we’re talking about here is a modest change for a potentially huge impact.

The UK’s largest and most advanced robotics centre opened just last week in Edinburgh, Scotland, and its central tenet involves pioneering technology to improve and protect people’s lives.

The National Robotarium’s opening gambit was a seriously intriguing one: a firefighter’s helmet built with integrated AI, sensors, thermal cameras, and radar technology. If you’re picturing Iron Man, we don’t blame you.

This mash-up of high-brow tech – in a neat little package – is designed to help firefighters navigate low visibility areas more effectively during search and rescue missions.

The first prototype is already receiving rave reviews at a training centre in the nearby town of Newbridge.

During any hazardous, emergency situation black smoke is a first responder’s worst enemy. It eats into an already scarce commodity, time, and leads to inevitable errors in decision making due to a lack of available data.

‘Time is critical in these situations. Currently our firefighters are very highly trained in carrying out search and rescue techniques, but that does take time in these environments,’ says Andy Galloway of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

That’s where the upgraded helmets could come in. Upon entering a burning building, for instance, the radar, sensors, and thermal imaging work simultaneously to establish a picture of all surroundings. All the while, a live feed of data is sent back to a remote assistant who can advise via comms.

When it comes to searching for those in danger, the thermal imaging helps to spot people even if they’re partially covered. In the worst-case scenario, if there are casualties, this will be strongly indicated by weak or missing heat signals and efforts can be quickly realigned to save others.

‘We can scan a room a lot better,’ says watch commander Glen Macaffer. ‘We can take five to ten seconds compared to probably a couple of minutes when we wouldn’t have that technology.’

In its current iteration, the device weighs less than a single kilogram, is attachable to any standard helmet, and is made of largely affordable components. This means bringing the concept to scale shouldn’t be too difficult, provided the prototype continues to navigate all regulatory red tape.

‘As time goes on, I’m sure the kit will become smaller and easier to manage – but ultimately positive reviews so far,’ revealed Macaffer.

While we eagerly await fresh developments here, the National Robotarium is hard at work on other exciting projects. This includes a robotic dog to work in hazardous environments, underwater robots to examine offshore wind farms, and devices to help us research lesser-known diseases.

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