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Firefighters in heavily smoke-filled buildings can easily become disoriented in what are usually unfamiliar surroundings. In the worst case, this can be fatal. That's why a standard procedure has now become firmly established in such situations, with firefighters searching for people in need of help in pairs. Unfortunately, firefighters often have to rely solely on their sense of touch and can lose contact with each other without realizing. The conditions of the situation then generally make it more difficult for them to find their partner again. The Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Zwickau University of Applied Sciences (WHZ) has been addressing this problem and is presenting the fruits of its efforts at HANNOVER MESSE 2019 - an innovative new firefighting mask.

"The innovation centers on a pair of data glasses integrated into the mask. This enables firefighters to move around in poorly lit or smoke-filled buildings. It also provides them with important information in their field of vision, such as a layout plan, evacuation plan, instructions from the unit commander, and their own vital signs," says Professor Rigo Herold from WHZ. This autonomous "navigation and communication solution" uses three lightweight ultra-wideband (UWB) radio nodes that are incorporated into the firefighters' protective clothing. Innovative technology that combines distance and angle of arrival calculations can be used to analyze three essential individual signals to determine the relative positions of the firefighters in relation to each other. However, this application presented some very tough technical challenges. All the optical equipment, electronics and power supply needed to be integrated into the mask without impairing the wearer's field of vision. All the mask's components also had to be airtight. Other essential features include heat resistance and mechanical stability. To help meet these requirements, the researchers at WHZ were able to draw on the expertise they gained in previous research projects on data glasses for steel workers and printers.