A Look at FirstNet and PSCR’s New Innovation Center
Tuesday, August 02, 2022 | Comments
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) division launched its Public-Safety Immersive Test Center in Boulder, Colorado in May.

The center is intended to act as a place where public safety can test new technology and innovations that could help them in their critical missions.

“We wanted to create an ecosystem that all academia, industry and others can work with public safety to address their needs,” FirstNet Authority Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Jeff Brachter said during a tour of the center July 28. “Today, that vision is a reality.”

The center allows first responders to explore innovations in several areas that PSCR is currently focused on in its research: indoor location-based services, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Two other key PSCR research areas are mission-critical services and security and resilient systems.

The FirstNet Authority and NIST PSCR began partnering on the center about two years ago. PSCR was looking for a space to deploy some of the technology needed for its research and the FirstNet Authority had open space in a warehouse. That led to the creation of the center.

“We know these services are what first responders need and that’s where we want to go,” said Brachter. “It was a natural fit.”

One room of the new joint center is a room with cameras built into the ceiling. The cameras transmit 120 times in a second to provide a highly accurate location for objects in the room that covers x, y and z coordinates. While such a system is unlikely to provide first responders a benefit in the field because of the cost and inability to install it in every building in the country, the system can act as a reference for other indoor location technologies because of its accuracy, said Joe Grasso, location-based services lead for PSCR.

Teams working with NIST PSCR to develop location-based services prototypes can bring their location-based services prototypes and test them to see how accurate they are. The high accuracy of the reference system gives teams a strong sense of how accurate their technology is, Grasso said.

Another key focus of the new center is VR and AR solutions. A room in the new center has been set up to work with a VR headset to simulate a variety of different situations that a first responder might run into. During the tour, attendees were able to try a VR situation that simulated a smoke-filled building.

VR could play a key role in providing training and testing of solutions for first responders in the future, said Scott Ledgerwood, UI/UX lead for NIST PSCR. However, one key limitation in the past was that a user was generally tethered very closely to a computer making it difficult to simulate truly moving around the virtual environment.

The VR room in the new center is intended to help address that issue by allowing users to move within the virtual environment more. The room can also be adapted to suit different situations.

“Now, we have a modular space that can better simulate that world,” Ledgerwood said. He noted that because this VR simulation is closer to the real world now, it is easier to take the results from testing technology in that environment and apply it to the real world.

While VR will likely play a large role in future training and technology testing for first responders, it won’t play a big role in the field for first responders. AR, however, has the potential to provide first responders with a powerful tool in the field.

During the tour, attendees were able to try several AR headsets intended to provide users with a variety of information to improve situational awareness. One headset displayed a map of a fireground. That map showed the location and the vitals of different units in the field, the direction and intensity of the wind and other information intended to give a clearer view of the situation.

To learn more about the Public Safety Immersive Test Center or plan a visit, email Kim Coleman.

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