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VR Drives Next Generation Situational Awareness for Public Safety

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A new software solution uses virtual reality (VR) headsets to put the command center in front of first responders at the scene of an emergency.

Headwall developed the Headwall XR Command Center with the idea that VR is better than two-dimensional screens for displaying maps and spatial information, said the company’s chief executive, Geoffrey Bund. I’m here.

“We have taken it for granted that all information must be converted to a 2D format for transmission and display,” says Bund. “Virtual reality enables [geospatial information systems], mapping system, and 3D information to preserve the native format until display. “

He put the idea to the test in the recent four-stage CommanDING Tech Challenge sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. To improve the quality and usability of the Incident Command Dashboard, NIST told companies earlier this month that it would provide “video, sensor, map data, and real-time indoor tracking and video analytics using mobile and web-based solutions.” announced that Headwall was named the winner of the $130,125 prize pool.

Headwall’s solution allows live video feeds from the command center and other data displayed on the video wall to be viewed by field commanders on head-mounted displays. This means that field responders have access to the same level of situational awareness as responders in the Incident Command Center.

In the final stage of the competition, NIST provided a scenario where an explosion occurred in a school and first responders were given 20 minutes to locate and rescue the victims. The simulation took place in his 90,000-square-foot, four-story building at the University of Memphis where he worked with 20 actors. Synthetic data from surveillance cameras, mapping apps, sensors, and other devices such as vital sign health trackers were streamed in real time during the 20-minute event.

“The envisioned challenge was that the XR command center was utilized by people at the headquarters location and then [by commanders] In the field on site,” Bund said. “By allowing the command center to be placed in a small form factor, it feels like you are in a physical command center.”

Headwall is currently working on converting the integration with simulated data to real data. For example, instead of using NIST surveillance cameras, crowd detection works with Genetec, which offers physical security solutions. And instead of his annotated 3D point cloud model that NIST provided for the assignment, Headwall said he plans to work with Esri.

The software integrates with the first responder agency’s video management system through an application programming interface.

“At about the same time that the physical headquarters video wall or command center is being updated, updated, or built from scratch, the AV integrator provides the hardware to send the video,” says Bund. “We build an API that allows them to send commands, send information…and send information from our software to the video management system.”

For example, if a fire chief sees footage from a body-worn or surveillance camera through his headset and is of interest to people at headquarters, he can flag it and send it in XR Command Center.

In addition, Headwall loads enterprise licenses of government mapping software to enable ingestion and visualization. “For the most part, the software was halfway there,” he says Bund. “They have a hook into the game engine called Unity that we use to build our visualizations so we don’t have to actually build and pull in every map from scratch. of visualization data can be imported into our platform.”

The company has ported it to work with the Meta Quest Pro headset. “This allows you to get rid of computers and cables and have a standalone headset,” he said. “There is no setup at all…. What we envision is that you can just open your laptop, launch the application, and connect to the headset instantly.”

Other potential use cases for XR Command Center include school shootings and corporate security, Bund added.

Since 2017, NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) division has run sweepstakes challenges focusing on technologies such as VR, haptic feedback, Internet of Things, augmented reality, drones, and UI/UX. Scott Ledgerwood, his UI/UX lead at PSCR, said a major reason for the responder-focused challenge is that public safety agencies can find it difficult to use off-the-shelf technology.

The PSCR challenge will address the problems that exist in today’s public safety communications, and “deploy resources to drive innovation and bring the technology closer to a market where it can be delivered to first responders,” said Ledgerwood. . We want to put new technology “into their hands so they can really impact their mission in their operations.”

According to Sarah Hughes, Prize Contest and Challenge Specialist on NIST’s PSCR Open Innovation Team, all of the challenge participants were impressive.

“For every area of ​​research we’ve done so far at PSCR, we had a roadmap of where we wanted to go and where we wanted to push communications technology,” Hughes said, based on what he heard from the first responders. said Mr. “If we’re going to design communications technology for public safety, they need to be at the forefront of design.”

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.



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