FirstNet Authority and NIST Launch Immersive Virtual Experience Center for Public Safety

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced the launch of the Public Safety Immersive Test Center in Boulder, Colorado to drive development and deployment technologies critical to effective public safety response.

Through this partnership, NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR) and authority FirstNet plan to enable research and development, education and training, offering installation at no cost to agencies public safety and organizations that support public safety response efforts, including the private sector and academic institutions. The facility is designed to help answer key research questions about the future of user interfaces and location services for public safety training and operations.

“When seconds count, situational awareness can be a matter of life and death for first responders,” said Jeff Bratcher, director of network and technology for FirstNet Authority. “We are proud to partner with NIST on this state-of-the-art facility and provide first responders with an immersive virtual experience to help them prepare for these critical moments. The FirstNet Authority is dedicated to advancing technology and innovative ways to ensure first responders have the tools they need for their lifesaving mission.

“This facility allows us to take our research to the next level by enabling natural interactions,” said Scott Ledgerwood, who leads NIST PSCR’s work on user experience and user interfaces. “Traditional VR simulations required controllers for interaction, which didn’t translate well to real-world scenarios. In this new facility, users can walk or crawl throughout the space, physically touch walls and furniture, and pick up props like fire hoses or mannequins. This approach will improve metrics and build confidence in test results for real-world technology translations. »

Located in the FirstNet Authority building, the center includes approximately 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) of custom space equipped with a motion capture system, 42 high-speed optical tracking cameras, a variety of headsets augmented and virtual reality, as well as equipment and devices that add a tactile component to simulations. This equipment helps responders execute various scenarios, such as simulated search and rescue activities or complex coordinated terrorist attacks. The FirstNet Authority and NIST plan to regularly update the space with enhancements such as haptics and metrology, 5G, edge computing, WebXR capabilities (which allow virtual and augmented realities to be combined) and other technological advances for public safety operations.

Technology developers will have the opportunity to test their equipment in realistic scenarios, and first responders will also be able to participate.

“The center gives us a glimpse of the future,” said Sterling Folden, deputy chief of Mountain View Fire and Rescue in Longmont, Colorado. “It’s very exciting to see the technology being invested in to augment everything we do and the tools we will have in the future to make our citizens safer. All these technologies resulting from the installation have the possibility of being implemented in the field. Some lend themselves better to training like virtual reality, but augmented reality can be implemented in the field sooner rather than later and make a big difference for people.

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