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UNCG uses grant to develop tech for first responders

The new augmented reality software could protect police, fire and rescue teams

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Dr. Regis Kopper at UNC Greensboro (UNCG) has received $1.8 million in National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) funding to develop augmented reality (AR) interfaces for use by first responders.

 “AR displays information and images over a person’s real-world vision – think Google Glass meets Pokemon Go – and is the next technological frontier for improving public safety,” says Kopper. “It will give EMS personnel, firefighters, and law enforcement officers access to critical data when they need it the most, while they are in action in the field.”

As AR technology develops, the government and public safety sector are preparing for a future in which AR devices will be accessible to first responders. Those preparations have included a significant stream of funding to support the development of AR public safety user interfaces, to use with the coming technology.

In previous NIST-funded projects, Kopper and his collaborators have developed user interfaces that Wake County EMS, Durham Fire Department, and Hillsborough Police Department personnel tested in virtual reality environments, which simulated soon-to-be-available AR technology.

The tests included interfaces for firefighters who need directions in a burning building, for police officers accessing driver information during traffic stops, and for EMS personnel facing complex medical cases.

“Some of the devices we’ll test are not yet available commercially,” says Kopper. “We’ll be working with AR tech that uses spatial data, instead of heads-up units that simply display 2D information. This spatial AR tech is not yet ruggedized enough for widespread use, but prototypes are available for testing.”

For the new three-year project, called FirstModulAR, Kopper’s team will work closely with public safety personnel and consultants to create a database of common public safety tasks that can be improved by AR tech. The researchers will use that data to develop a series of AR public safety modules, which they will test with the assistance of first responders.

“We want to create plug-and-play modules that work across a variety of situations first responders encounter, to increase situational awareness, reduce uncertainty, and improve decision making,” says Kopper.

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