06.02.20

Haptic helmet gives firefighters ‘smoke vision’

Smoke
The haptic helmet being used to guide a firefighter through a smoke filled building.

A haptic helmet designed by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University, USA, gives firefighters the ability to ‘sense’ directions in pitch black, smoke-filled environments, combining haptic technology with conventional firefighting equipment to give users ‘smoke vision’ when other human senses become useless.

The helmet, developed by an interdisciplinary research team from Carnegie Mellon University uses haptic interfaces as an alternative to conventional communication channels for fighters, allowing users to interact with a computer through body movements. 

The ‘haptic helmet’ prototype is a modified firefighter helmet with added haptic actuators, a control box with a radio module and other devices that communicates directions to firefighters in smoke filled buildings by sending a buzz to the front, back or the sides of the head, precise signals which indicate whether the user should move forward, stop and turn left or right. 

The signals are sent to the helmet via a nearby RF remote controller or from a VR simulator through a cable. 

Yang Cai, senior systems scientist, Carnegie Mellon CyLab, led the team that created the modified firefighter’s helmet. He explained: “We wanted to keep the design very simple and have very rapid prototyping. Our solution to the problem was the simplest, and it can be low cost.”



The helmet was tested in virtual reality scenarios and was tested live in a firefighter training facility in Colorado, USA. A group of firefighters would put on the helmet, navigating a dark, smoke-filled environment while a CMU researcher followed the firefighter through the building with a thermal imaging camera to send directions to the helmet, allowing the firefighters to navigate through an environment which would be almost impossible to navigate with conventional human senses.