Life-Saving Smart Shoes Track Firefighters

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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.

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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

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