Vibrating helmet designed to guide firefighters through smoke


April 1, 2013

A firefighting helmet that incorporates ultrasound and vibrational forehead pads could help firefighters find their way in smoky environments (Photo: Shutterstock)

A firefighting helmet that incorporates ultrasound and vibrational forehead pads could help firefighters find their way in smoky environments (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Firefighters can quite often find themselves in smoke-filled rooms, where it’s impossible to see more than a few inches in any direction. Not wanting those firefighters to run into walls, researchers at the University of Sheffield have created a prototype helmet that vibrates against the wearer’s forehead, letting them know the location of nearby obstacles.

The Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo) scientists started with an existing conventional Rosenbauer firefighting helmet, and equipped it with a series of ultrasound sensors and vibrational pads.

By sending out pulses of ultrasound and analyzing their echoes, the sensors are able to detect the presence and proximity of objects such as walls. In response, the pad(s) facing in the direction of the object are activated, providing the user with a tactile directional alert.

The system was inspired by rodents’ ability to find their way around in the dark using their whiskers.

It was decided that touch was the best of the senses for the system to utilize, as a firefighter’s senses of sight and sound are already under heavy use in an emergency situation. Additionally, the forehead was chosen as the location for the pads because it frees up the wearer’s hands, and allows for quicker responses to the vibrational cues.

The SCentRo team is now looking for a partner company interested in commercializing the technology. A lightweight version of the system could conceivably also find use as a means of guiding the visually impaired.

Source: University of Sheffield

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

had this idea for a mechatonics class team project, as an aid for blind people. also with ultrasound sensors. but unfortunately I was shot down.

Mihai Pruna

As always I love inventions and commend them for making this one, but as a former airport fire-fighter and smoke diver I have to say that there are 2 ways that is way better than an audio warning system. The best way (that was invented here in Sweden) was the use of big fans that blows air into the house clearing the smoke. The smoke being way more dangerous than the resulting increase in fire. Making it a fast job for the fire-fighters to search the house in an fast way. Also making the air less toxic to breath for any trapped victim. Second is the use of thermal cameras if the building is too big to fan out. Speed is very important in a rescue. Clearing room by touch takes a long time. Even with some beeping aid, you need to feel around to try find people in there. And they can be missed by cm´s. Co is the biggest killer in fires, very few people die of the heat.

Toffe Kaal
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