While Global Navigation and Satellite System (GNSS) positioning technology can help rescue workers improve operational efficiency, challenges remain. For firefighters operating outdoors, obstacles like thick smoke, dense forests or rough terrain impede the availability, reliability and accuracy of satellite data. GNSS signals are also poorly received inside buildings, and typically unavailable below ground. Getting location-specific information often relies on firefighters’ observations, an added burden given their other stressful and dangerous tasks. The EU-supported Autonomous Indoor & Outdoor Safety Tracking system (AIOSAT) project developed a system which combines several technologies to improve the availability and accuracy of indoor and outdoor positioning information to help firefighters. “These positioning technologies enable our algorithm to produce valuable information that helps first responders and operational controllers make more informed decisions, better protecting people and property,” says project coordinator Iñigo Adin from Ceit, the project host.
The algorithm at the heart of the AIOSAT system relies on combining data from three positioning technologies. GNSS, augmented by the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service and adapted EGNOS Data Access Service, provides satellite positioning information. Inertial movement unit sensors within the firefighters’ handheld units enable the algorithm to anticipate body movement and direction. This is supported by Ultra wideband radio frequency technology which determines the distances between each unit, or ‘node’. The nodes, partly embedded in firefighters’ suits and partly in their boots, send data such as position, battery level and temperature to the brigade leader’s node using Bluetooth and a low-power, wide-area network, LoRa. This data is then sent to the cloud-based server using 3G/4G technology. As well as the tracking and alert data from the firefighters’ nodes, the server holds a number of assets, such as visual applications, that are useful for information-sharing and giving orders. Commanders in incident command posts can access the database information online and remain linked to the tablets and smartphones carried by brigade leaders deployed with each team. Firefighters and brigade leaders can also upload situational updates to the server. “This makes decision-making faster, more effective and more transparent. As the whole process is recorded, it can be revisited for training,” notes Adin.
Saving lives and livelihoods
Three test scenarios were designed to validate the system. These were: outdoor conditions in a rural scenario in Extremadura, Spain; an underground parking lot in Ghent, Belgium; and mixed urban and industrial conditions at the Twente Safety Campus in Enschede, the Netherlands. While work at these three locations had already resulted in further configuration of the system, the COVID-19 pandemic hampered testing. To maintain momentum, the consortium replicated these scenarios for final testing in San Sebastián, Seville and Enschede. “The results of these scenarios validated the accuracy of our simulations, demonstrating that fusing the three positioning technologies offers a good solution for firefighters,” explains Adin. The AIOSAT consortium aims to license the system to a company for integration into a commercial device. The members are now contacting potential companies, sharing the results of the project, and offering their expertise.
AIOSAT, satellite, firefighter, emergency response, algorithm, radio technology, tracking, positioning, technology, sensors, safety