Jun 27 2022

FirstNet Authority Launches Immersive Virtual Lab for Public Safety Research and Training

Firefighters will train in realistic scenarios with virtual and augmented reality tech.

The First Responder Network (FirstNet) Authority recently announced the launch of its Public Safety Immersive Test Center in Boulder, Colo.

FirstNet Authority and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research Division officials say the center will offer research and development, education, and training free to public safety agencies and organizations that subscribe to the FirstNet Authority public safety network, including private sector and academic institutions.

Located in a FirstNet Authority warehouse, the facility is designed to explore the future of user interfaces and location services for public safety training and operations. The 1,000-square-foot customized space is equipped with a motion capture system, 42 high-speed optical tracking cameras, many types of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, and gear and fixtures that add a haptic, tactile component to simulations.

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The center is designed to help responders and technology designers simulate various scenarios, such as simulations of search and rescue activities or coordinated, complex terrorist attacks.

FirstNet Authority Chief Network and Technology Officer Jeffrey Bratcher says the lab will be the technical headquarters and training lab “for the augmented reality and virtual reality aspects for public safety.”

LEARN MORE: How augmented location capabilities can change the scope of emergency services.

“Technology developers and public safety workers themselves can use the center to try out new augmented reality equipment in realistic scenarios that they can physically walk through, where they can pick up real objects, such as fire hoses and nozzles, instead of being limited to remaining in place and using a controller,” Bratcher says.

Bratcher notes that current VR technology requires the use of a hand controller, unlike the AR technologies tested in the center.

Lab Aims to Test Real-Life Scenarios for First Responders

The lab’s goals go beyond improving and enhancing communications for public safety, Bratcher says.

“We’re developing technologies for situational awareness, more realistic training environments and some of the other unique capabilities we see the wider, broader bandwidths allowing for,” he says. “We’ll be supporting those technologies in the future, and NIST has been leading that research and development in this space, which is why we partnered with them to build this immersive test center together.”

The FirstNet Authority and NIST plan to update the space regularly with enhancements such as haptics and metrology, 5G, edge computing, WebXR capabilities (which combines VR and AR) and other technological advances for public safety operations.

EXPLORE: How cities are expanding emergency services with cloud resources.

“The center is giving us a glimpse into the future,” says Sterling Folden, deputy chief of Mountain View Fire and Rescue in Longmont, Colo.

“It’s very promising to see the technology that is being invested in to augment whatever we do and the tools we’ll have in the future to make our citizens safer. All these forms of technology from the facility have the opportunity to be implemented in the field. Some lend themselves better to training, like VR, but augmented reality can be implemented in the field sooner rather than later and make a big difference for people,” he says.

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