AR Firefighting

Future tech: Trends for the coming year


There's reality, virtual reality and now, augmented reality.

Military, law enforcement, first responders and others often use virtual-reality technology to safely train for real-world events. Virtual situations are created in simulators or behind specially designed goggles to make trainees feel like they are in a setting and situation. With augmented reality, the trainee is in the actual setting. Only the situation is simulated.

Last September, Harmless Hazards Training LLC, Bedford, N.H. sold an augmented reality system to the Navy for firefighting training. Later this year, El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp. will deploy another Harmless Hazards training system at the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Va.

The systems cost roughly $400,000 each, said John Ebersole, chief executive officer of Harmless Hazards.

In an augmented reality system such as Harmless Hazards, training takes place on the ship, not in a simulator. Trainees wear special masks or goggles that let them see what is actually in front of them. A computer system superimposes images such as fire and smoke. Using augmented reality, Navy trainees, for example, could practice putting out fires in areas of a ship as they would actually encounter them.

"Each trainee sees the fire from his or her own perspective. ... They're networked, and they see the fire as if it was real," Ebersole said.

A computerized fire nozzle attached to a central system can spray a virtual extinguishing agent at the fire. The Harmless Hazard system can simulate poison gas, chemical spills and other events.

"This is a cost-effective way to create deadly training scenarios," Ebersole said, "but without the deadly consequences."