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New Sensor System Tracks Firefighters Where GPS Fails – Science Nation


MAN ON WALKIE-TALKIE: I have fire showing. I also have
possibility of a rescue on the third floor. MILES O’BRIEN: Everyone involved in this drill at
the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute knows how difficult and dangerous it is to locate a
missing firefighter in a smoky inferno. MATT LEONARD: When you go into a burning
building you don’t really see anything. And you can’t see your hand in front of your
face if you’re touching your face piece. You’re going on instincts. RAY HODGSON: We’ve had instances where we’ve
lost firefighters in a building and had a hard time finding them. It’s very frustrating. MILES O’BRIEN: That’s why these firefighters
are testing out a new type of sensor system that tracks their whereabouts deep inside buildings,
where standard GPS units often don’t work. CAROL POLITI: This has been a need for a long time.
September 11th was widely publicized, and I think in that case there was not even an understanding
of whether certain firefighters were actually in the buildings. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National
Science Foundation, CEO Carol Politi, and her team at the company TRX Systems, are developing
this portable device called the Centrix Tracking Unit. It actually is a suite of sensors. CAROL POLITI: So sensors include accelerometers
and gyroscopes. Those are sensors similar to what you have in your Wii, for example. MAN ON WALKIE-TALKIE: 28-19. I have a
may-day for the rescue group. MILES O’BRIEN: They gave us a demonstration. As a firefighter outfitted with the sensor moves
through the smoke, the Centrix Tracking Unit maps his location and sends the data to a nearby base station,
in this case, the incident commander’s laptop. The system can transmit via radio waves,
Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. MAN ON WALKIE-TALKIE: They have found
the victim on the back quadrant, and they’re coming out with him. RAY HODGSON: I think this is tremendous for
the fire service. If my firefighters get in trouble and need help, it’s gonna cut my time
down to about a tenth of what it takes right now to go in there and do a blind search. MILES O’BRIEN: In addition to firefighters,
Politi says the Centrix system could benefit other first responders like the police, FEMA or the
Red Cross, as well as the military and miners. BEN FUNK: For first responders, firefighters, they’re
more difficult because of the types of motions that they’re performing. MILES O’BRIEN: Politi says they’re working to
hone the accuracy of the system before they make it available for sale to firefighters.
The goal, pinpoint precision, keeping a watchful eye through the smoke and flame.
For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

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