Haptic Helmet guides firefighters to where they need to be

We’ve seen a few devices designed to give firefighters an idea of the interior layout of a burning building, including the SmokeBot. But once they’re inside, smoke may prevent first responders from being able to see where they’re going. The Haptic Helmet from Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering department could help.

A research team led by Yang Cai at the university’s CyLab installed some haptic actuators inside a standard firefighter’s helmet. When wearers get buzzed to the left, they look or move to the left. Or right when an actuator buzzes right, forward for a front buzz and back or stop for a buzz to the helmet’s rear.

The team’s prototype is controlled wirelessly using a RF remote which means that firefighters could be guided by operators in a mobile control unit using data supplied by bots, drones or other survey devices.

Though just announced, the team’s design won the Haptic Interfaces for Public Safety Challenge last year, while also nabbing an extra award for producing a commercially-promising prototype.

The helmet was put through its paces in virtual scenarios, and in a series of actual firefighter training trials. For the latter, one of the researchers followed firefighters into a smoke-filled room, with a thermal camera in one hand and the RF remote in the other. For training purposes, the helmet can be paired with a virtual reality simulator and the actuators controlled via a cable.

“At the competition, half of the judges were real firefighters, and overall, they liked our approach because it was the most intuitive,” said the team’s Florian Albert. “If you got a buzz on the left side of your head, you look towards the left. Being intuitive is important because firefighting is really stressful.”

The researchers are now looking to work with Pittsburgh firefighters to improve the design. The video below shows the helmet prototype being put through its paces at the challenge.


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