Winners announced: First Responder Smart Tracking Challenge


Tuesday, 23 January, 2024

Winners announced: First Responder Smart Tracking Challenge

Led by Indiana University and funded by an $8 million cooperative agreement from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the First Responder Smart Tracking (FRST) Challenge addresses the crucial need for improved tracking capabilities in complex indoor environments where GPS often falls short. As part of the challenge, six teams recently vied for top ranking in the development of 3D tracking technology, a critical innovation aimed at improving the safety and efficiency of emergency response operations.

“Emergency response organisations across the country are begging and budgeting for this type of technology and are just waiting to get their hands on it,” said Gary Howarth, Program Officer for NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research Division, which oversees the FRST Challenge.

The competition, which started in March 2022, included five phases, culminating in a final live testing phase at Indiana’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in October 2023. There, first responders from across the state, including the Columbus Fire Department, Indianapolis Fire Department and Bedford Police Department, faced various challenging scenarios, including smoke-filled rooms, darkness, stairs, ladders and tunnels, replicating real-world emergency conditions.

A total of $5.6 million in prizes and support funding was distributed across the five phases of the competition, supporting participants as they purchased materials, formed teams and created partnerships to develop their technology. A total of $1.9 million was awarded to competitors in the final phase of the competition, in which teams’ solutions were evaluated based on criteria such as scalability, ruggedisation, affordability and usability for real-world deployment. Ascent Integrated Tech and AdaptiTrace emerged as the top-performing teams in the final phase, each receiving $507,500 for their innovative solutions.

Image credit: Indiana University Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab.

Ascent’s Smart Firefighting collective uses a platform that combines localisation and biometric monitoring to track firefighters in 3D space within multistorey buildings. It employs sensors affixed to the equipment of first responders, streaming crucial data including thermal imaging, environmental conditions and location information, while keeping an eye on carbon dioxide levels, humidity and airborne metal oxide, the latter a by-product from fires and industrial activities. AdaptiTrace’s system, also attachable to first responders’ equipment, employs multiple sensors and robotics to create a multilayered 3D map as responders move through a building.

“All six of the finalist teams did well, and they each have unique offerings for the public safety community,” said Sonny Kirkley, Director of the FRST Challenge at Indiana University. “While the judges did rate the teams, in many ways all six finalists were successful and have a real ability to bring a product to market from this competition.”

With the challenge now completed, the organisers hope to see the integration of these innovative solutions into real-world emergency response operations, marking a significant step forward in enhancing the safety and efficiency of first responders in the field. NIST is currently collaborating with Indiana University to develop a plan to continue working with the competing teams and the greater location-based services community to improve their products and bring them to market.

Top image credit: J Grasso/NIST.

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