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UK Researchers Design Sensor-Fitted Helmet for Firefighters

Mar 30, 2013 06:19 AM EDT

Firefighters have a daunting task of finding survivors in an unfamiliar, dark space that's filled with smoke. A new "tactile helmet" designed by UK researchers could provide firefighters vital information about their surroundings.

The device is fitted with sensors that detect distance between the helmet and nearby walls. These sensors send signals to vibrating pads attached to the inside of the helmet. Firefighters can use this information to navigate through unfamiliar dark, smoke-filled spaces.

The helmet was designed by researchers from Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo).

A lightweight version of the same helmet could also be useful for the visually impaired, who can use it to avoid dangerous places.

Researchers say that since the vibrating pads are attached to the forehead, the wearer's hands are free to do other tasks.

"When a firefighter is responding to an emergency situation he will be using his eyes and ears to make sense of his environment, trying to make out objects in a smoke filled room, for example, or straining to hear sounds from people who might need rescuing. We found that in these circumstances it was difficult to process additional information through these senses. Using the sense of touch, however, we were able to deliver additional information effectively," said professor Tony Prescott of the University of Sheffield in a news release.

Sheffield Centre for Robotics had recently announced the invention of "swarming robots" that can be used in a variety of settings, from medicine to military. 

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