What's the Latest Development?

Engineers at the University of Sheffield's Centre for Robotics have designed a prototype helmet for firefighters that uses touch feedback in smoky conditions where visibility is limited. Ultrasound sensors built into the helmet detect obstacles and inform the wearer through pads that vibrate when he or she gets too close. The concept was inspired by rodents' whiskers and their ability to guide in dark and close spaces.

What's the Big Idea?

Helmet-cam videos provide a first-person view of what the wearer is experiencing, but in the case of firefighters, the results are less than exciting once they enter a burning building. Centre for Robotics director Tony Prescott says that the engineered helmet gives an expanded sense of touch, which is beneficial when other senses are already taxed: "[H]e will be using his eyes and ears to make sense of his environment, trying to make out objects in a smoke filled room, for example, or straining to hear sounds from people who might need rescuing." The researchers hope to find a commercial partner to help bring the helmet to market.

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