‘Tactile Helmet’ Gives Firefighters Super Sensory Powers
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A new invention based on the sensing abilities of rodents could help ensure that firefighters are never left in the dark. The specially-adapted “tactile helmet” allows firefighters to sense what’s going on around them, even in total darkness.
Developed by a team of researchers at the Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo) in the United Kingdom, the new firefighting helmet is fitted with ultrasound sensors that are used to detect distances between the person wearing the helmet and nearby walls or obstacles.
The sensors send signals to vibration pads located inside the helmet, touching the wearer’s forehead. These vibrations enable a firefighter to know when he or she is approaching an obstacle that should be avoided or a wall that can be used as a guide through a smoke-darkened room.
Researchers modeled the helmet on the tactile sensing abilities of rodents, whose whiskers provide them with early warnings of potential hazards.
And while the sense of touch in human beings is normally associated with fingertips, not foreheads, researchers found that stimuli delivered to the cranium allowed for a quicker reaction time on the part of the wearer- an improvement that could prove vital in emergency situations.
The prototype helmet was developed using a Rosenbaeur helmet-the most commonly used firefighting helmet throughout Europe- but researchers believe that a lightweight version of the tactile helmet might also be useful for people with visual impairments.
[See also: Rescue Robot Helps Emergency Workers]