In the wearIT@work project, Fraunhofer FIT led the user-centered design process of wearable computing solutions for emergency response forces, working closely with the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP). Our focus was not a specific technology, but a holistic design strategy that takes into account the organization, its individual members and the technology being used. By taking a decidedly user-centered approach we aimed to resolve the difficult trade-offs between innovative technologies and this particularly unforgiving domain in the best interest of future fire fighters.
A particularly difficult and dangerous part of fire fighting operations is searching for and rescuing victims in smoke-filled environments. To find their way back out under such poor visibility conditions, fire fighters today attach themselves to ropes. But these ropes can get stuck, cut, or entangled with obstacles. To address these drawbacks and explore the use of innovative wearable and ubiquitous technologies, we developed LifeNet, a navigation system prototype.
LifeNet uses sensor nodes that are automatically deployed by the fire fighters as they move through a building. With additional sensors in the boots and wearable components such as a micro-display built into the breathing mask, the system can locate the fire fighter within the sensor network and provide navigational instructions. To address the challenges encountered in designing the LifeNet system, FIT developed and used three prototyping techniques, all featuring simulated emergency operations at BSPP’s training facility.
For early design stages, the FireSim board game allows simulating interventions and technological concepts easily with pen and paper, possibly with the help of facilitators. This technique provides an engaging participative design experience to the users and rich design feedback. To address the lack of interactivity of paper prototyping, the FireSim multi-player virtual environment provides more immersive experiences, and technological prototypes that can be very similar to the real ones in terms of interfaces and behavior.
In order to test designs during actual physical activities, FIT conducted field trials at BSPP’s training site using physical prototypes, simulating functionality through facilitators and additional technological means, where necessary.