There are few industries as mission critical as first response. Technology innovation in mission-critical industries like first response, therefore, is non-negotiable if U.S. cities want to provide the best quality of life possible to its citizens. Industry and government are both investing in first-response technology innovation through efforts like seeking R&D (research and development) proposals for partnerships and putting forth challenges/contests that offer cash and other types of prizes for winners. Stimulating innovation in these ways and others will help the first-response community by giving them smart new ways to digitize, automate, analyze events, collect more data from the field, and benefit from realtime communication.

The DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security) S&T (Science and Technology Directorate), for instance, has been actively seeking new tech solutions for first responders in four different categories. This summer, the DHS S&T first solicited contract opportunities for labs, academic organizations, industry players, and individual members of the community by inviting them to submit proposals for technologies that will help first responders do their jobs safely and more effectively.

The four areas the DHS S&T demonstrated interest in this time around include integrated structural turnout gear, next-generation firefighter helmets, remote and rapid rescue capability, and portable thermal imager devices with integrated signs-of-life sensors. By asking the industry to up the game when it comes to things like firefighters’ protective gear, including the integration of technologies into firefighter helmets, as well as handheld devices that can improve rescue efforts and quickly identify signs of life, the DHS is showing it recognizes the importance of bringing equipment up to 21st-century standards.

The NIST (Natl. Institute of Standards and Technology)’s 2020 CHARIoT Challenge is currently open for competitors to demonstrate technologies in two different tracks: AR (augmented reality) and the IoT (Internet of Things). In the AR track, the CHARIoT Challenge asks contestants to build AR interfaces for first responders. Specifically, these interfaces include holograms for incident command perspective and heads-up displays for first responders. The IoT track asks competitors to emulate smart city data for disaster scenarios, which could empower decisionmaking during critical times and even save lives.

The CHARIoT Challenge competition asks participants to demonstrate their solutions within the context of four different emergency situations: wildfires, floods, active shooter scenarios, and tunnel collapses. The contest ends in November, with the final phase being a live competition at a public safety training center. Winners in the AR track will win up to $880,000 in prizes, while winners in the IoT track will be eligible for up to $212,000 in prizes.

Advancing first responder communications and operations by encouraging the development of better gear, smarter tools, and improved access to data using sensors, as well as AR and IoT technologies, is a solid and important investment in creating smarter, more livable cities and communities. Incentivizing innovation tends to bring more innovators to the table and bring about some really valuable solutions. The solutions conceived in response to these efforts and others will likely be no different.

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