By Brett Gillin
Even in perfect conditions, standard GPS units can be less than useful for firefighters while on the job. Oftentimes, the conditions that firefighters find themselves rushing into are much less than ideal. Smoke and heat can wreak havoc on GPS systems, making them a tricky proposition for use in firefighter technology. However, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology is working on a GPS-style system for firefighters which could prove to be a lifesaver: Smart Shoes.
While smart shoes sound like the latest technology that we’ll see our teenagers rocking on their first day of school, they’re not exactly being designed for such pedestrian uses. Instead, KTH is placing GPS units with accelerometers and gyroscopes directly into the soles of shoes (or firefighting boots) to help commanders track the exact movement of the squad, no matter how dire the conditions in the building.
According to this article on Discovery News, these shoes will be able to pinpoint the firefighters movements down to the step, then transmit them directly via a wireless transmitter that the firefighter will wear on his or her shoulder. This transmission is then picked up by a central command hub, presumably just outside of the building, and a detailed position of each firefighter is displayed.
This technology is more than just a pipe dream though. It has been rigorously tested in fire conditions up to 80 feet underground where GPS would fail, thanks to the use of the gyroscope sensors and accelerometers. Even in intense heat, thick smoke, and more than seven stories underground, these smart shoes are still serving their primary function of keeping our firefighters save. Thanks to heavy shock absorption and a very high resistance to heat, this technology should be ready for field use quite soon.
The next step in KTH’s plans is to take all of this technology and shrink it down as much as humanly possible. This will enable them to have the entire apparatus in the sole of just about any shoe, meaning they could use it with other hazardous jobs such as for miners, construction workers, S.W.A.T. teams, or even in civilian versions. Another goal is to make the device completely self-sustaining power-wise, which would not only further reduce the size of the apparatus, but also mean that human error such as forgetting to charge or change the batteries would be all but eliminated. Heck, if watches can wind themselves and don’t need batteries anymore, it’s not far fetched to think that the motion of a shoe could generate enough power to keep a small GPS unit functioning, and keep our firefighters safer than ever.