Wearables like Google Glass are shaping up to be as useful as they are cool. For police officers, firefighters and other public servants, that’s very good news indeed. When your job involves keeping the public safe, even a slight technological edge can save lives. From finding the exact address of a fire to identifying a perp, it’s easy to see how first responders can benefit from the wearable computing revolution, even if it never catches on with the public at large.
Saving lives on both sides
As part of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, a competition in which students create a tech solution for real-world problems, a Belgian team developed a way for firefighters to retrace their steps to get in and out of burning buildings safely. “Too many firefighters give their [lives] because they can’t find a way to escape [the fire they're battling],” explains the Team Hateya pitch video.
Hateya’s product, the ComeBack, uses sensors built into a firefighter’s jacket to track the path taken into burning or smoke-filled buildings. Then, using helmets with built-in augmented reality visors similar to Google Glass, the ComeBack displays arrows showing firefighters how to exit. There’s also a back office application that lets off-site personnel give directions, monitor situational stats and share information with firefighters in the field.
A more mobile approach
Hateya’s product has at least one major limitation: no cellular data connectivity. This means the device must connect to an existing Wi-Fi source, leaving departments with a hobbled product if they don’t have a portable hotspot or similar solution. Google Glass also requires a supporting smartphone or mobile device to offer features like navigation, video streaming and quick access to critical information.
The Golden-i, a computer headset designed for first responders and other professionals, one-ups Hateya and Google Glass by offering built-in Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. The device also offers a suite of apps tailored for police officers, paramedics and maintenance workers. For departments with very specific high-tech needs (like the ability to scan vital signs and license plates), and a total disregard for physical appearance, the Golden-i may be the best option.
Google gaining a foothold
Google Glass has plenty to offer public servants in need of a solid wearable computing experience. The search giant’s experimental product takes a more generalized approach to smart glasses than the Golden-i, giving users access to first and third-party apps that make life easier for first responders.
For police officers, Glass could put an end to those long walks back to the patrol car for a background check. Taser, the U.S. company who has been making accessories for police officers for years, recently sent tech sites video of their AXON Flex, an attachable video camera/application combo that mounts to Glass and performs functions like scanning a driver’s ID and license plate instantly.
Although Glass and a firefighter’s oxygen mask don’t really mix, this hands-free hardware could be extremely helpful for commanders on the scene. With Glass, these team leaders can view building layouts for house and office fires, see topography maps for wildfires, and keep a close eye on vital signs.
Glass also has huge communication implications for both public servants. For example, Glass can potentially give wearers on-the-spot language translations. This would be vital for cops interviewing witnesses or firefighters trying to rescue individuals from buildings. Glass also has the potential to let commanders see crime scenes and fires through the eyes of their teams, making it easier to give them impromptu instructions.
But the greatest overall advantage of wearables like Google Glass, Golden-i and ComeBack is the ability to make faster and more informed decisions while answering the call of duty. Every second counts for these valiant professionals, and hands-free devices could be the difference between life or death. Whether the general public embraces wearables or not, they’ll definitely be welcomed by the brave men and women who need them the most.