Utilizing VR in the New Era of California Wildfires
As of mid-November, the Camp fire continues to rage through central California leaving a path of destruction in its path. Our hearts and prayers go out to the residents of Butte County as they weather what is considered to be the most destructive a deadliest fire in California’s history. The massive wildfire broke out on November 8th and Cal Fire just announced that the blaze will probably not be contained until later this month. To date, the Camp fire has taken the lives of 77 civilians and has destroyed 10,500 homes.
Kyle Heggstrom, Linda Fire Department Battalion Chief commented on his crew’s efforts battling the Camp fire, “Our strike team has been engaged in everything from structure defense all the way to perimeter control.” Heggstrom addressed some of the challenges his crew has face, “It’s been a difficult fire to attack because of how fast moving it has been and because of difficulties gaining access to certain areas it has burned. I think the biggest thing I’ve notice is just the amount of damage – it’s been unreal.”
Tomorrow’s Fire Fight
As the Norcal fire rages on, those of us not fighting for our lives or our homes are left to wonder what can be done to better protect ourselves from the next fire incident? Fires of this magnitude seem to be occurring with more regularity and scientist are pointing to the coastal state’s climate as the primary culprit of such fire events. California has seen a decreased spring snowpack in recent year which has reduced the moisture level throughout summer and autumn. Further the state has two fire seasons due to the infamous Santa Ana winds.
Now whether you believe that California’s massive population is having an effect on the climate or just think the recent weather patterns are a high-stakes coincidence, it has to be noted that this population is creating more burn opportunities within the state. But if we got ourselves into this mess, we can get ourselves out. One of the ways Californians are doing just that is through the use of virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality.
World-Class Training Methods
Last year, Wired UK Magazine published an article about the training efforts at the International Fire Training Centre near Darlington (IFTC). The center is world-renowned, hosting fire-fighting crews from 131 countries. The center is so attractive to the fire-fighting community because of the number of situations it can prepare a crew for. The center includes abandoned planes, derelict oil tankers, wrecked vehicles, old shipping containers, and a myriad of ill-fated test dummies. For firefighter’s who feel that they have reached a certain point with their classroom studies, the center offers next level real-life scenario’s.
The center incorporates a virtual-reality workspace where commander’s in training can run through virtual plane crash simulations testing out proper communications protocols. The Wired article described the training grounds, “Though it’s a shiny piece of kit, with whirring gaming PCs running training software that can customize everything from the movement of passengers to the type of weather, all the tutors agree there’s nothing better than practical training at IFTC.” True, the training tech at IFTC is world-class and is of great value to the global firefighting community. But… travel expenses and training fees for IFTC can be prohibitive for some of the more rural fire-fighting teams of California, not to mention time-consuming and dangerous. Enter XR for fire-fighting training and fire-fight communications.
Fighting Virtual Fires Pt. 2
The Flaim Trainer
Researchers out of Deakin University recently created an immersive VR firefighting simulator that combines an HTC Vive VR headset, weighted firefighting clothing with heat generation technology, haptic feedback, and a breathing simulator to create realistic training conditions. The new version of Flaim also incorporates a hitoe “bio-sensing nano-fibre vest” which measures trainee’s electrocardiogram (ECG) readings and sends them to fitness analyst who can monitor the trainee’s vitals in real time.
“We were impressed by hitoe and its potential opportunities to be integrated with FLAIM Trainer. With firefighters facing long periods of inactivity and fighting fewer fires than ever before, this co-innovation initiative will significantly boost the fitness and effectiveness of firefighters all around the world and put them in the best possible position to keep safe and protect our communities.” said Ken Mahon, Director Ventures, Deakin Research Innovations. The current iteration of the FLAIM Trainer with hitoe technology is proving itself to be a safe, cheap and highly mobile solution to some of the traditional challenges associated with firefighting training, which will allow firefighters to train more efficiently and more frequently.
Contextual AR Mapping
The Alameda Police Department and the Menlo Park Fire Department are currently testing an AR technology known as EdgyBees, which creates contextual mapping to allow emergency service technicians to make more informed decisions. Adding to the complexity of fighting fires is knowing, and letting others know, the exact locations of the fire, fire-fighting teams, equipment, and potential, sometimes, unseen hazards. “EdgyBees augments live video feeds with geo-information layers, including maps, building layouts, points of interest, user-generated markers, and more data layers that provide visual context and operational intelligence,” said the company’s CEO.
EdgyBees is currently only used in training but one can easily imagine scenarios where such technology could be effective in the field. Fire-fighters currently use maps, walkie-talkie’s and video feeds to transmit such vital information. Such information could easily be made instantaneously available to drone pilots, ground personnel and all distributed personnel all while being monitored and facilitated by command centers.”
AR for emergency services on the hardware side is also seeing some development as several companies have started developing AR helmets for firefighters. A helmet developed by Qwake Tech features thermal imaging, edge detection, and toxicity sensors to give firefighters practice in dealing with heavy smoke and fume situations.
Tsunami XR is deeply committed to the exploration and expansion of XR applications. Especially the ones that are saving lives. Based out of San Diego, Tsunami XR delivers cloud collaboration services for distributed global teams. Tsunami’s workspace platform is creating twenty-first century workspaces which are visually-rich and highly-interactive, incorporating any content or data, from video conferencing and digital whiteboards and presentations, to complex CAD and 3D content.
Learn more about Tsunami XR’s CEO Alex Hern, here.