XR Goggles for Wildland Firefighters

An academic project

Overview

An Academic assignment for Interactive Design Methods with Anusha Malla

Problem: Wildfire near a mountain town
Solution: Create a technology using Ai and Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality to help first responders in high priority incidents.

Role: Research and Design
Time Span: 4 Weeks

Scenario

A wildfire is burning quickly through the San Bernardino mountains near Lake Arrowhead, a rural town which sits nestled in the region will soon be surrounded by fires. In this town there are a few small homesteads with farm animals, pets, and families. The region has 5,000 residents and told to evacuate. FEMA, Wildland firefighters, and the national parks service are looking for solutions to ensure the safety of these residents, their homes, their livestock, and wildlife through new technology.

Problem Statement

Wildfires are uncontrollable, damaging, and costly; occurring more frequently due to climate change and with greater repercussions, more lives lost. Hotshot firefighters stay in constant communication with Incident Command during wildfires through radio. Wildfires can lose control quickly to which the speed of using handheld CV radios can impede the safety of crew.

Questions:

  1. How can we proved more data to the incident command that give the crew a better picture of the scene?

  2. How can we make the view easier for firefighters in the zone?

Ideation

Looking at the scenario we researched wild land fire fighters called hotshots, and learned more about what they do and the tools that they use. This helped to ideate solutions that incorporated tools and wearables that hotshots may have a need or use for without distraction.  Through the use of the 10 x 10 method, sketches and storyboards, we ideated and related how these products may be used in the field.

Final Sketches

After several days of research and sketching, the team agreed on a handful of possible solutions.

Goggles and Drones

 

Goggles are part of the wild land firefighting uniform. This should not cause issue or distraction for crew. Combined with the technology like Microsoft Hololens and artificial intelligence using data gathered through FEMA, NPS, and Drones in an attempt to offer better solutions for wildfires.

Drones enabled with fire fighting capabilities to light backfires and put out tree fires, as well as, gathering immediate data for incident command.

Low Fidelity Prototypes

Working on the low fidelity prototype to gain an idea of how information is organized and transferred down from incident command, to fire command, and finally to the field. The idea is that wildfire data is stored at the incident command level, the pertinent information such as an active emergency is sent down to the fire command level. All information is then used for response and action.

XR Goggles First Person View

Rough User Evaluations

Once we created a rough prototype, we needed to find users to evaluate what we created. As our prototype is intended for use by firefighters, we looked to fire fighters to evaluate the prototype.

 

I was able to connect with a fire chief in Loudon, Tennessee with experience with wild land fires. We spoke over zoom and we walked through the prototype on Figma.

Results and Changes Made

Questions on the usability of the technology needed to be answered. Are drones viable? Somewhat. Does the heads up display work? Null

During this rough evaluation, participants were more interested in adding and providing information on the structural and wild land firefighting duties. As no usability concerns arose during the evaluation, the prototype was updated to match the concerns below.

More steps between leaving the station and fighting the wildfire were added, including an information panel aligning more closely to the duties of the firefighters, staging areas and task force assignment were created, as well as a clearer animation showing data received to the crew boss from incident

command.

Additionally, creating (thermal imaging camera) TIC vision into the heads up display, showing drone images for a smaller area, and presenting individual crew locations were added.

With our iterations to the prototype. The team finally secured a time to do a second round of evaluations with local firefighters. 

Finished Digital Prototype

The team chose only to do a digital prototype for this assignment as the idea of the XR goggles were more conceptual, using imagination to drive our point.

User Evaluations - Firefighters

A second, more formal, round of evaluations were done with 6 local firefighters, located in Indiana. Ages ranged from 20-50 years of age, including all occupations from officer, engineers, and back-steppers. This formal evaluation was done as a group at the Fire Station, sharing the updated, final, prototype from Figma.

The firefighters liked the idea of the heads up display that presented information to the crew.  They ideated additional elements that would assist in the communication and safety of the ground crew. Cost and usability were a large part of the conversation and brought up possible issues with the heads up display. An example: Using gesture controls, was a concern as there are times when the firefighters cannot see their hands, the display would be useless unless there is a back up to this issue like eye-tracking control.

Iterations based on the evaluations, knowing where and how far your crew are from you. "like in video games"

Reflection

Lessons Learned

What I have learned throughout my courses is that testing early can alleviate issues that may affect costs down the road. As this project would be subject to costs which would affect the department's ability to use such technology, it would have been better to conduct the rough evaluation with the six local fire fighters first. This crew brought many ideas to the table that would've helped to reevaluate the usability of the XR Goggles. The concept is great but there need to be back ups for unexpected situations.

I tend to move quickly when given assignments. In this project, I chose to conduct research during the ideation phase. I wanted to understand more about incident command, wildfires, and how data could help make better decisions.

There are current technologies such as the one we ideated. There are now drones that assist in fighting fires using phosphorus bombs and lighting backfires. The national park service (NPS) and biologists gather information about the wildlife in these areas. FEMA gathers and stores data from previous wildfires as well as the NPS. There is currently a few systems that are using Ai to track and understand how wildfires wildfire. One of which I consistently referenced is WiFire.

You can find this information here: https://wifire.ucsd.edu/

Additionally if you live in an area prone to wildfires check this reference out and stay safe.  Wildfire Action Plan

Bonus Video Prototype

Thanks to the video "Unskilled Labor" A Season with the Hotshots | Wildland Fire Documentary Hotshot Firefighter Crew, for the images used. You can watch the video, found here.