Newswise — Getting lost is a hazard firefighters accept with the job. They know that most times, someone will rescue them before their air tanks run out or flames engulf them. But they also know there’s a fair chance they will inhale smoke or get burned waiting. Each year in the United States, hundreds of firefighters suffer injuries, and a handful die because they can’t get out of burning buildings.
You might think there’s an easy tech fix. After all, satellite-based navigation systems do a fine job of maneuvering you through city streets or tracking down that laptop you left in a cab. But creating a system for navigating indoors, where satellite signals don’t easily penetrate, is much tougher. Yes, consumer products already exist for airports, malls, and museums. But most of these require prior surveys of Wi-Fi signals, which aren’t present everywhere, especially if access points or power sources go up in flames.
In the decade or so since six firefighters lost their lives in a deadly warehouse blaze in Worcester, Mass., dozens of engineers have joined the race to build an indoor navigation system that can track firefighters to within a meter. Now, two groups say they are close to succeeding. If they can clear just a few lingering technical hurdles, they may be able to get equipment in the hands of firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders within the next couple of years.
For a faxed copy of the article (“The Way Through the Flames,” by Mark Harris, IEEE Spectrum, September 2013) or to arrange an interview, contact: Nancy T. Hantman, 212-419-7561, [email protected].