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POINTER: Seeing Through Walls to Help Locate Firefighters Who Need Rescuing

Firefighters Battle Fire

A novel positioning expertise is being developed to pinpoint firefighters inside buildings the place different positioning applied sciences fail.

When mounting a rescue inside a constructing, firefighters are sometimes confronted with a fast-changing atmosphere obscured by smoke and flames. Navigating the construction might develop into complicated and, ought to a firefighter develop into misplaced or injured, the rescuer can shortly develop into the one who wants rescuing.

To assist mitigate these risks, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Division of Homeland Safety Science and Expertise Directorate (S&T) are growing POINTER (Precision Outside and Indoor Navigation and Monitoring for Emergency Responder), a system to find and observe firefighters inside buildings after they danger their lives to save others. Quick for Precision Outside and Indoor Navigation and Monitoring for Emergency Responders, the system started taking form in 2014, and now the expertise is being matured to be used by fireplace departments nationwide.

“Even with all the advances made in firefighting expertise, we nonetheless lose far too many firefighters annually,” mentioned Greg Value, who leads S&T’s first responder research-and-development packages. “We wish them to know that we now have their backs, that we’re working to give them the instruments they want to guarantee their very own security. POINTER is a kind of life-saving options.”

The Division of Homeland Safety Science and Expertise Directorate teamed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop POINTER, groundbreaking first responder monitoring expertise that makes use of magnetoquasistatic fields to three-dimensionally find responders throughout emergencies—particularly when visibility is low due to heavy smoke or particles. With POINTER, incident command can pinpoint group members to inside centimeters. Credit score: Division of Homeland Safety

In contrast to positioning applied sciences similar to GPS or radio-frequency identification, POINTER doesn’t use radio waves. Although radio waves supply a dependable means to decide your location in a comparatively open area, they’ll develop into unpredictable if you happen to go indoors or end up surrounded by excessive buildings. This can be a minor annoyance when making an attempt to discover the situation of an appointment, nevertheless it might be a life-or-death scenario when making an attempt to find firefighters in a burning constructing.

POINTER removes that unpredictability by harnessing magnetoquasistatic (MQS) fields. A kind of electromagnetic discipline, MQS fields have been largely ignored by researchers as a viable positioning software due to speedy drop-off as a perform of distance. However JPL senior analysis technologist Darmindra Arumugam helped work out a mathematical and technological framework to allow their sensible software by utilizing decrease frequencies to lengthen the vary of this expertise whereas guaranteeing extremely correct location knowledge.

“These fields are usually not blocked or mirrored by the supplies present in most buildings, as most building supplies permit quasistatic magnetic fields to simply permeate,” mentioned Arumugam, who can also be the principal investigator for POINTER.

“It is a very thrilling expertise that provides one other dimension to firefighters’ situational consciousness.”
Ed Chow, POINTER program supervisor

MQS fields could be generated when low-frequency alternating electrical currents cross by means of a coil. Electromagnetic fields have each electrical and magnetic parts, however at very low frequencies and for coil buildings, the magnetic element in MQS fields turns into dominant. Within the quasistatic vary, which might lengthen from just a few meters to 1000’s of meters (decided by the frequency passing by means of the coil), MQS fields act very like the static magnetic discipline produced by the inside of our planet. That is why this discipline is described as “quasistatic,” which suggests nearly stationary, or very slowly oscillating.

“This presents a major distinction to how distant wave-based place sensing works and performs,” added Arumugam. “Whereas radio waves develop into blocked, mirrored, and attenuated by the metallic, cement, and brick supplies in buildings, magnetoquasistatic fields don’t. They cross straight by means of partitions, creating a way to navigate and talk when direct line of sight just isn’t obtainable.”

This type of positioning expertise will even have purposes off Earth, added Arumugam. The MQS approach could also be configured for longer ranges, filling a major expertise hole for navigation sensors for a few of NASA’s area robotic initiatives. Many of those robotic programs will want to navigate autonomously throughout difficult, non-line-of-sight environments and should require further navigational talents. MQS fields might be utilized by ice-penetrating robots, cave robots, and , the place conventional navigation methods fail to function properly.

The POINTER system consists of three elements: a receiver, transmitter, and base station. The firefighter wears the receiver, which is at present the scale of a cellphone however anticipated to develop into a lot smaller after additional improvement. A transmitter that may be connected to emergency automobiles exterior the constructing generates the MQS fields, which journey by means of the constructing, pinging any receivers positioned inside over a variety of about 230 ft (70 meters) within the present model of the system.

This vary could be prolonged however isn’t wanted in most fire-service purposes. The receivers detect the fields, decide their 3D location, after which ship that knowledge again exterior the constructing to a laptop computer (the bottom station). Visualization software program reveals the place the firefighters are in 3D area inside an accuracy of some inches.

Not solely can POINTER assist firefighting groups find group members by means of partitions, MQS fields can even decide the orientation of the receiver. In different phrases, they’ll present essential details about whether or not a primary responder is standing up or mendacity down, shifting or immobile, and which route they’re dealing with.

POINTER consists of a receiver, transmitter, and base station. Clockwise from left: The receiver prototype is worn by firefighters and communicates with the transmitter coil, which was connected to an out-of-service firetruck for testing functions. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DHS ST

“It is a very thrilling expertise that provides one other dimension to firefighters’ situational consciousness,” mentioned JPL’s Ed Chow, the POINTER program supervisor. “Firefighters could be tracked in actual time and, in the event that they develop into unresponsive, their group members can see if they’re trapped below particles or if they’re injured so a rescue could be mounted.”

In a latest demonstration, POINTER was examined in a three-level, 8,000-square-foot (750-square-meter) construction on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Middle campus with an accuracy of lower than one meter in three-dimensional area all through the construction. A number of POINTER units have been evaluated by members of the Division of Homeland Safety Science and Expertise Directorate’s First Responder Useful resource Group and business associate Balboa Geolocation Inc. to be sure that they met first-responder necessities.

The POINTER group is now planning to perform a reside webcast of a technical demonstration inside a two-level single-family residence in Pasadena, California, close to the campus of Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. Additional discipline checks in a wide range of firefighting situations are being deliberate by means of 2021, and a industrial model of POINTER can be made obtainable to fireplace departments in 2022.

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