'Tactile Helmet' May Aid Firefighters

A two-year research project produced a prototype helmet that will be on display at this year's Gadget Show Live in Birmingham, England, April 3-7.

A "tactile helmet" developed by the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield, England, could help firefighters detect objects near them even in darkness or heavy smoke conditions. The helmet contains ultrasound sensors that can detect the distances between the helmet and nearby walls or other obstacles. The signals are transmitted to vibration pads attached to the inside of the helmet, touching the wearer's forehead. Rescue workers will be able to use the signals to find walls and other obstacles that could help guide them through an unfamiliar environment, according to the university's news release.

A lightweight version of the technology could help people with visual impairments avoid hazards, it says.

The helmet was created by a team of researchers at the Sheffield Centre for Robotics. "When a firefighter is responding to an emergency situation he 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<' said its director, Professor Tony Prescott. "We found that in these circumstances, it was difficult to process additional information through these senses. Using the sense of touch, however, we were able to deliver additional information effectively."

The prototype helmet was developed through a two-year research project. It will be displayed during this year's Gadget Show Live, to be held April 3-7 in Birmingham, England. Visit http://www.gadgetshowlive.net/ for information about the event.

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