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Sensor array maps a first responder's location, movements

The human brain is amazing, but it has its limitations. One of the biggest is that it’s difficult for two humans to accurately share data. To tell another human what we know, we have to write it down in painstaking detail or carefully explain it orally. Those who have perfected those skills become successful politicians, writers or entertainers. But even those people probably don’t come close to perfectly replicating their ideas inside the minds of others.

That’s just a fact of life. But if you happen to be an emergency responder, or a solider, that little limitation can get you or other people killed.

Say you’re a firefighter entering a burning building looking for survivors, or a soldier trying to clear an area of enemies. Someone else may have gone into that same building last year, or last week, or five minutes ago. But the information about the various twists and turns is stored in that other person's brain, which doesn’t help you very much.

But help may have arrived. The scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have built an automatic building mapping computer that could make sharing positional data a lot easier.

As a person wearing the sensor array walks through a building, lasers scan the various distances between the mapper and the walls. Altimeter and barometer sensors estimate and track height, and cameras take snapshots so that they can be compared to the map the computer is drawing. The map is relayed to observers viewing it on a laptop.

Amazingly enough, the device comprises of a lot of off-the-shelf parts, such as the camera from an Xbox 360 Kinect sensor.

The experiment, which worked from the premise of a situation involving hazardous materials, expands on previous work done with robots. It currently allows the person wearing the sensor to press a button noting an area of interest, but the team expects to be able to add voice or text tags to the map.

Although still in prototype phase, it seems to work well. You can see the system in action below.

For this technology to go mainstream, the sensor would likely need to get a bit smaller. And some work on the end-user interface would also be needed so that the data can be easily shared in the field. But this is a promising development that could end up saving lives.

Posted by John Breeden II on Sep 26, 2012 at 9:39 AM

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