Dec. 30 - A head-mounted virtual reality system to be worn by fire-fighters could revolutionise fire safety, according to its developers at the Vienna University of Technology. The prototype ProFiTex system is designed to provide first-responders with an unprecedented view into the layout and temperature of burning buildings, giving them a better chance of saving lives. Jim Drury reports.
Its creators say this prototype helmet could revolutionise fire-fighting and help save the lives of people trapped inside burning buildings. Part of the ProFiTex system, it was designed by a team at the Vienna University of Technology, to help fire-fighters penetrate thick, blinding smoke. Infrared sensors on the helmet project real-time, colour-coded surface temperatures onto a head-mounted display, allowing first-responders to judge whether a room is safe to enter. The outline of people trapped inside would also appear on-screen via thermal imagery technology. Co-developer Christian Schoenauer says the eyes of the system are provided by a depth camera that creates a live, 3D model of the building. SOUNDBITE (English) CHRISTIAN SCHOENAUER (PRON: SHOO-NER-WAH), PHD STUDENT IN VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY GROUP AT VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "We use the depth information to create a model of the environment, of the house or of a room and then we map the thermal information onto that model, so what we get in the end is a textured 3D model which, for example, could be sent to an operational commander in the firefighting scenario." That information would be send via fibre optic cable woven into a fire-fighters' guide rope....although team leader Professor Hannes Kaufmann admits that too much information could cause problems of its own. SOUNDBITE (English) HANNES KAUFMANN, PROJECT LEADER AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR FOR VIRTUAL REALITY AT TU VIENNA, SAYING: "One of the problems is how much we should show the fire-fighters. We do not want to give them false safety. For example, if we reconstruct the floor and it's fully intact but one second later the floor breaks down and we still show a fully intact floor this could be very dangerous for the fire-fighter. So the question here is how much to display and which information to give to the fire-fighter directly." Kaufmann says he eventually plans to incorporate high-power infrared lasers into the design, that pierce through thick smoke. Entering burning buildings is routine for fire-fighters. Kaufmann says that helping them see where they're going and the obstacles they face when they get there will make their jobs a lot safer.