Space & Innovation

Life-Saving Smart Shoes Track Firefighters

Sensor-laden shoes record precise data about a firefighter's location and movements and transmit the info to central command. Continue reading →

Billowing smoke increases the likelihood that a firefighter will get disoriented but some of the best GPS tech out there won't survive leaping flames. A new sensor-laden shoe developed by Swedish researchers could provide firefighters with clear paths to safety.

Web-Connect To Everything You Own: Photos

Despite extinguisher-lobbing robots and a way to zap out fires with electrical wands, firefighting remains a very dangerous human endeavor. Investigators piecing together what happened in the chaotic wildfire that killed 19 firefighters in Arizona last summer concluded that fatigue and poor communication were contributing factors.

When other conditions are ideal, smoke and heat can still be too much for GPS technology. That's where shoes containing a digital positioning system developed at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm could make a difference. The shoe contains a processor, antenna, a wireless communication system and sensors including an accelerometer and gyroscope, according to KTH.

The shoes record precise data about a firefighter's movements and transmit them directly to central command through a wireless transmitter the firefighter wears on the shoulder. The shoes are also shock absorbent, resistant to high heat and can still function more than 80 feet below ground. They've been tested in real-time to that depth.

This new tech was led by professor Peter Händel and researcher Jouni Rantakokko in collaboration with the Swedish Defense Research Agency and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Hat tip to Gizmag.

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Next the KTH group plans to incorporate all the sensor technology directly into the shoe sole and make it thin enough to work in other shoes such as miner's boots or even civilian ones. They also want to make the sole generate its own power. When all else fails in hellish conditions, these shoes could become a lifeline.

Credit: Greg via Flickr

Fire crews continue to battle the "Rim Fire" inferno raging just to the west of Yosemite Park. Extremely dry forests surrounding the blaze, high winds and potential for the fire to jump from one location to another over long distances makes for extremely difficult firefighting conditions.

The plume of carbon monoxide pollution from the Rim Fire burning in and near Yosemite National Park, Calif., is visible in this Aug. 26, 2013 image from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua spacecraft.

A MAFFS C-130 drops fire retardant along a fire break just east of Tuolumne City Ca.

View from Greeley Hill of the Rim Fire backing down Pilot Ridge at 1:00 am on Aug. 26.

Ebbetts Pass and Calaveras County firefighters watch back fire operations on Evergreen Road.

The Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp, a city-owned camp that has operated since 1922, burned in the Rim Fire.

A fire-charred and melted power meter.

Burned outbuilding and pickup truck.

A highway sign burned by the Rim Fire, is seen in Yosemite National Park, California, August 24, 2013.

Big Bear firefighter JON CURTIS keeps a close eye on a 'slop over' fire that jumped Hwy 120 just east of Hardin Flat Road while fighting the Rim Fire on Aug. 25.

The National Park Service (NPS) fire crew is helping to protect the Giant Sequoias in Tuolumne Grove, about 16 miles (26 km) west of Yosemite Village on Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park.

Majestic Giant Sequoias tower over NPS fire crews as they establish a hand line, the term for a fire line made from hand tools, in the Merced and Tuolumne Groves.

NPS crews lay a sprinkler hose along their hand line as part of a multi-pronged approach to protecting the Giant Sequoias against the Rim fire.

Sprinklers are placed around the perimeter of the Merced and Tuolumne Groves of Giant Sequoias in an effort to protect the big trees.

Smoke from the Rim Fire hovers over the Groveland Ranger Station.

Satellite images of the fire taken at night show the progression of flames as it expanded into Yosemite National Park. Fire fighters on Aug. 24, worked to protect Tuolumne City and the populated Highway 108 corridor from the western edge of the fire. They were also able to maintain the eastern edge of the fire from spreading into Yosemite National Park, but the fire grew in the southeast and then penetrated the eastern lines on Aug. 25, becoming extremely active on the east as of Aug. 26.

This image shows the fire on the night of Aug. 26. NBC4 in Southern California reports: "California fire officials say the fire is so large and is burning with such a force, it has created its own weather pattern, making it difficult to predict which direction it will move. 'As the smoke column builds up it breaks down and collapses inside of itself, sending downdrafts and gusts that can go in any direction,'" CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. "There's a lot of potential for this one to continue to grow.'"

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on August 25, 2013. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.

A close-up of the previous image. "The San Francisco water and power utility said the city has not so far seen any interruptions in service, though two hydroelectric plants have sustained damage in the fire," reported the AFP. "Crews were working on repairing one of the plants, the utility said on its website, and supplemental power supplies in the interim have cost some $600,000."

Smoke from the Rim Fire drifts over Yosemite.

More than 4,081 firefighters, supported by helicopters and DC-10 air tankers, are working to slow the spread of the Rim Fire, which started on August 17 from causes still under investigation. So far the fire is 20 percent contained.