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.”
“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.
“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.