Helping Firefighters At Every Step
In the last ten years, there has been a 50% increase in structure fires. They have also become more deadly than ever before. What can we do to help keep firefighters as safe as possible when they are fighting these fires? One answer is Firesafe – a digital twin that allows them to see better in dark situations and predict unforeseen risks.
We are in the middle of a digital transformation. The way we communicate, the things we buy and how we work is changing. But there is one group that has not changed: first responders.
Most emergency services still depend on paper maps to navigate their surroundings, use voice-activated radios to talk with other teams and can’t access live video feeds from drones or helicopters because they don’t have enough bandwidth.
This project will explore how Digital Twin technology could help first responders, especially firefighters, by leveraging IoT sensors to better respond to emergencies quickly and effectively while also protecting themselves against dangers like gas leaks, fires and more.
This project is conducted in collaboration with Telstra and the University of Melbourne.
How can firefighters utilise digital twins in a structure fire and save more people?
What is a Digital Twin?
A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of an object or process. It can represent anything from your car’s engine to Nike running shoes!
Now that we have a basic concept of digital twin technology let’s see how I came to my design decision.
You could not ask for a more dedicated group of people when it comes to saving lives. The first responders in the study were all firefighters, and they volunteered their time out-of-pocket, which means that there was no screening process beforehand.
Three firefighters voluntarily participated in this study and one helmet manufacturer.
Two firefighters were from Australia and one from the United States. And, the helmet manufacturer was from India.
There is little to no visibility inside the property when attending structure fire. (Primary research)
“One time while on a emergency, me and my team had to go inside a building where the flames were getting higher every minute and there were embers all over in the air. Man, it was awfully smoky inside, and we could not see anything. And we had to rely on our hearing senses to see if there are any people stuck. I was really wishing I had one of those heat sensors that time. But fortunately there was no one inside. that stuff is scary” [P2] said when asked if they ever imagine having that one tech gadget on that they think would have helped immensely in an emergency situation.
This provides clarity on what features are required and can be helpful in an emergency. One potential feature could be to install heat sensors on top of the helmet and display the heat signatures in HUD on the glasses.
KI2 – Firefighters have to hand-held the Gas monitors and Thermal camera. (Primary and secondary research)
“Every day, we have to take gas monitors and thermal cameras with us into buildings where they malfunctioned just so that if something goes wrong, we’ll be able to pinpoint the location.” P said, answering what tech they use most commonly in a structure fire.
This solidified the feature of integrating thermal imaging and gas level in the HUD display.
KI3 – Firefighters have to put on more gear when going inside a structure fire. (Primary and secondary research)
This insight was beneficial and helped decide which wearable would be best to consider in digital twin integration.
KI4 – Firefighters have to enter a building without any prior knowledge of the properties they are going into. (Secondary research)
This is because first responders don’t usually do their research before arriving on the scene but instead rely heavily on secondary sources such as information from other firefighters or Google searches for clues about what kinds of situations may await them inside.
However, this isn’t always possible – and in these cases, having access to accurate data can be invaluable when it comes time to make decisions that could mean life or death for those trapped within the fire-affected area.
This insight has led to creating an app that integrates with their digital twin–the computer-generated representation of every building in real-time from inside out via cameras, sensors, and other data points–and provides crucial information at all times.
Aaron has completed five years in the Fire Rescue Victoria. He always dreamt of saving lives around him and make society a safer place to live in. Aaron is known for being the most daring in his crew; he will most likely be the first one to jump into a fire to save others.
Silva is captain of the Fire rescue Burwood fire station. He has dedicated 20 years of his life saving people, animals and forests from burning down. With his knowledge and experience, he was promoted to the captain designation. Silva has sworn to make the fire department more technological aware by seeing all the latest developments.
Silva has a wife and a daughter whom he loves too much and wants to come home to.
Below are the sketches that were created while keeping the key insights and persona needs in mind. There was only one round of iteration of designs as all participants favoured this idea.
For this project, I created two prototypes. A helmet that acts as the primary data collection for the digital twin model and a cloud-based application that takes all the information from the helmet as input and predicts risks and provides analysis.
The prototype of the helmet was created using Adobe illustrator and helmet manufacturer feedback.
The cloud-based application prototype was designed on Adobe XD.
Feedback received on the prototypes
- “It’s a great concept mate but I can’t give a proper feedback unless it’s in my hand and I can wear it.. But I love that you are considering these pain points. Thumbs up” P said when asked for feedback on the helmet. It is evident that the prototype would receive better feedback once a physical model is created. However, with the time constraints and resource limitation, a physical prototype was not constructed.
- “Keep the HUD elements small and to the point. Don’t let them interfere in my field of view. And please if you can add navigation elements” P said addressing the HUD elements. This insight was helpful as it helped me direct a new tactical positioning feature on the app along with real-time navigation on the helmet screen.
- “Think about it, if anyone can change the tactical positioning it will be chaos and you can’t le the control room change the positioning when they don’t have enough information. A captain is a more suitable person to handle positioning”. Very solid feedback by P when asked about the tactical positioning. This insight helped me reserve the tactical position feature only for captains or on-field commanders.
Firefighters are heroes. They’re constantly risking their lives to save others, and now it is time we help them with all technological advancements. I have taken my first steps in helping them by creating a digital twin project and a cloud-based app called Firesafe.
The app will provide firefighters with an interactive structural map that shows them where they need to go next and what dangers might be waiting for them along the way. However, the Firesafe app goes one step further and predicts the risks and does analysis for the foreseeable future.
This project was conducted over a period of 12 weeks which is not enough time to create something definitive. Nonetheless, I was able to do my research and come up with a potential solution that firefighters themselves have said considers their “pain points”.
The app and helmet are just prototypes and I would really like to at least physically build the helmet so that more realistic feedback can be acquired. The app also needs polishing as there were not enough firefighters for consistent and accurate feedback. Hence, I would like to expand the project limits and interview firefighters around the globe and get their feedback on the project.
Moreover, I would really like to integrate Telstra technology with the app and helmet to take its features to the next level.
This project has provided me with yet another opportunity to sharpen up my research and design skills. Key takeaways from this project are, research should be the topmost priority, quality and in-depth research will present quality information and always design for the user.
Additionally, throughout this research, I have also learned time management skills, resource management skills and valuable experience of working as a team.