Avrio Analytics Releases AR Training Tool for Firefighters | #education | #technology | #training


Tennessee-based Avrio Analytics has released an augmented reality training tool for firefighters, the latest example of how the business of keeping first responders sharp for the job is increasingly relying on the digital world.

Called Forge, the new tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) and biometric training to, in the company’s words, provide “hands-on training in digital but realistic environments that simulate real emergencies.”

The general idea driving Forge is to make sure that firefighters possess communication, situational awareness and associated skills needed in emergencies.


“Biometric and performance data collected during training allows Forge’s AI to dynamically change the training based on the user’s cognitive load, such as providing more or less guidance to the individual or introducing new training complexity in real-time,” wrote Avrio Analytics CEO Alicia Caputo in an email interview with Government Technology. “This allows for training sessions tailored to the ability of the individual, enhancing retention and elevating expertise.”

AR SCENARIOS

Scenarios offered via the product include details about different types of fires or hazardous material situations, vehicle accidents, residential and commercial buildings and triage.According to Caputo, fire departments conducting “size up” training typically rely on whiteboard discussions, drives around neighborhoods and photo-based systems such as Fire Studio that offer two-dimensional scenarios via computers or tablets.

“Forge is the first augmented reality 360 (degree) size up simulator, providing fully 3D, immersive scenarios,” she wrote. “Training sessions can be performed at full life-size scale, requiring the firefighter to physically walk around the building and perform a size up as they would at a real incident. Scenarios can also be conducted at a reduced scale to accommodate smaller training spaces.”

She added that the new product collects performance data automatically, with reports generated for instructors. Additionally, the augmented training tool allows participation by multiple firefighters, including those at remote locations.

Pricing starts at $10,000, which includes necessary hardware and software and pre-built training scenarios ready to use. The company also offers equipment leases and discounts for small, rural and volunteer departments. Public agencies also can seek FEMA grants for firefighter training, Caputo told Government Technology.

Two departments in Colorado also use this new product.

“We used to do dry erase board lessons or random structure drills as part of our training. We also had a limited two-dimensional software program, but it wasn’t doing well for us,” said Lieutenant Joe Bechina of Platteville-Gilcrest Fire Protection District in a statement provided by Avrio.

MORE VR AND AR

It seems likely that in the coming months more firefighters will turn to training tools powered by either augmented or virtual reality — while AR generally uses real-word settings essentially peppered with digital features via smartphones and other computers, VR creates its own digital world that requires a headset to access.

As Avrio tries to sell its AR-powered technology, some firefighters are using virtual reality training. A recent example comes from Wisconsin, where Chippewa Valley Technical College recently deployed the FLAIM system, complete with VR goggles and training scenarios.

“This system allows you to have hands-on training while also having an instructor right next to you,” said Mark Schwartz, the school’s fire and EMS coordinator, in a news report. “This system itself gives you instant feedback and allows you to tackle a variety of situations. It can have you fighting fires on a Boeing 737, in a national park, on a submarine, and residential fires, car fires and new scenarios are constantly being added. It’s really versatile.”

A Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grant helped to pay for the school’s VR training technology. More such money continues to flow into this space to boost training for first responders via some of the latest digital tools out there — another sign of the potential for growth in this area of government technology.

For instance, earlier this year the Public Safety Communications Research Division of NIST awarded $9.7 million in AR-centered grants to eight organizations, including universities and private companies.

The goal, according to NIST, “is to accelerate research and development around the use of AR for improving public safety user interfaces. These awards will have performance periods of two to three years beginning in May 2021.”

TREND DIRECTIONS

That total grant amount might seem puny when put up against all the money flowing into public safety and other areas of gov tech. Even so, a look at how the grant recipients plan to use those funds provides a glance at where this trend might be headed.

Take Pison Technology, which received $1.2 million, as one example.

The Boston-based company, which earlier this year raised $7 million in a Series A funding round, is developing a product called Archangel, according to grant material from NIST.

“Archangel provides a single wrist-worn solution with the capability to map intuitive finger, hand and arm gestures to the control of different AR displays and AR controlled systems,” that material states. “It does this by using proprietary signal filtering and machine learning classifiers that characterize unique gestures of the fingers, wrist and arm by monitoring micro-voltage changes in the neuromuscular system and motion of the hand, wrist and arm.”

Such a capability could help with control of unmanned drones and ground vehicles, among other tasks important to firefighters and other emergency personnel.

Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is using its $1.8 million grant toward a first responder training system called EasyVizAR, a tool that could prove especially useful in practicing for indoor emergencies, according to the NIST material.

NIST, of course, is not the only driver of the growth of VR and AR training for firefighters.

In August, for instance, the North Carolina-based nonprofit Research Triangle Institute — otherwise known as RTI International — announced it was working with the White Cross Fire Department in that state on an AR training tool.

More specifically, the two organizations aim to create what RTI calls “an immersive training experience and improve pump panel training for firefighters.”

The panel pump operator controls water flow and pressure at fire scenes, a job that RTI describes as “notoriously complex. The new AR will help improve training methodologies by giving firefighters the ability to learn in a virtual environment. On completion of the project, the team will have created a persistent test bed to evaluate AR applications for use by first responders.”

CUSTOMIZATION WORK

As for Avrio, the company is emphasizing the importance of customization for the success of its own AR training product — a signal of what these tools in general will have to offer in order to win contracts from public agencies.

“The system includes an iPad for instructors to generate an unlimited number of their own custom scenarios from a large library of structures, environments and hazards,” Caputo wrote. “Avrio offers additional services to add custom structures or hazards if there are specific buildings or scenarios a department wants, allowing a completely custom training application relevant to the structures a department or station actually responds to.”

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