MIT Researching Wearable Mapping System For First Responders
A wearable mapping system being developed at MIT may help first responders enter an environment prepared

Researchers at MIT are developing a wearable mapping system. Their primary focus is to aid first responders in a disaster or hazmat stuation in coordinating disaster response. Using this system, first responders would have a layout of the structure – even for multiple floors – so they can more efficiently plan their tactics.

» Mapping As You Go

In experiments, which were done on MIT’s campus, a graduate student walked around a building wearing the sensor. The system wirelessly relayed information to a laptop in a different part of the building. people watching the laptop could follow the student on the map that was continuously being created on the screen.

Also featured is a  handheld device for annotating the map. Currently, depressing the button simply designates a point of interest. But the researchers envision that emergency responders could use it to add voice or text tags to the map — indicating, say, structural damage or a toxic spill.

 We want to try to automate reporting on an environment exploration

Maurice Fallon, a research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and lead author on the new paper, commented on the practical application of this system. “The operational scenario that was envisioned for this was a hazmat situation where people are suited up with the full suit,” Said Fallon, “and they go in and explore an environment. The current approach would be to textually summarize what they had seen afterward — ‘I went into this room on the left, I saw this, I went into the next room,’ and so on. We want to try to automate that.”

» Building On Robotics

This system builds on thechnology which allows robots to map their environment. A downside to human usage, however, is stability. A first responder may jostle the unit as he walks. Additionally, altitude changes when exploring multiple floors need to be registered so the system does not overlay a map of one floor over another. Also, differences in orientation of the unit may cause a conflict when the wearer returns to a previously explored area. The system may register the room differently as a result. The prototype currently being tested addresses these issues.

All in all, this is an exciting new piece of technology. Instead of tedious, time consuming efforts to get documentation detailing the environment, or the hazards of going in blind, first responders can have quicker access to at least a basic idea of the layout. It’s encouraging that both the U.S. Air Force and the Office of Naval Research supported the work. That smoke diver helmet may not be as far off as one might think.

Sources: MIT News, Gizmodo

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