PSCR Publishes First Roadmap on Public-Safety Location-Based Services
Thursday, May 28, 2015 | Comments

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published the first “roadmap” for the next 20 years of research needed to establish seamless, broadband public-safety communications networks across the United States. The new roadmap, the first of a planned series on relevant technologies, focuses on location-based services to improve situational awareness for police, firefighters, EMS and other first responders.

The roadmap was commissioned by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, which has been performing research, development, testing and evaluation, and standards creation to support first responder communications since 2002.

“The roadmap will guide planning for public-safety communications research, including how to allocate the $300 million apportioned to NIST from the recent Advanced Wireless Services 3 (AWS-3) spectrum auction,” said Dereck Orr, chief of the PSCR division of NIST’s new Communications Technology Laboratory.

One of the PSCR’s goals is to enable broadband public-safety data, video and voice communications across different agencies and jurisdictions. To that end, the PSCR operates a 700 MHz public-safety broadband demonstration network and provides technical advocacy by gathering requirements and developing standards.

The new roadmap offers a vision of what public-safety communications might look like in 20 years. It identifies software, device and network research and development (R&D) investments needed to achieve that vision. The roadmap points out opportunities for action by multiple stakeholders. The document is based on ideas captured during a 2013 workshop involving 150 participants from both the public and private sectors.

A number of technology trends potentially affect public-safety communications, according to the report. Advances in wearable technologies and associated public-safety applications are expected in five to 10 years, and convergence with the Internet of Things (IoT) and full integration into public-safety use is foreseen in 10 to 20 years. The current reliance on voice communications for public safety is expected to give way to primarily data communications in some environments in 10 to 20 years.

“Location-based services” encompass applications that use information about the physical location of a user based on, for example, GPS signals. Location-based services were chosen as the first roadmap focus area because enhancements are feasible and could have high impact and return on investment, for example, by enabling more efficient allocation of personnel and equipment. According to the roadmap, location-based services are already useful for public-safety purposes in places with adequate network coverage such as outdoors in cities. Location services, including elevation data —which floor of a building personnel are on — are expected to become more widely available indoors, underground and in rural and extreme geographical settings in five to 10 years and ubiquitous in 10 to 20 years, along with enhanced precision and analytics. A key software need is improved 3D visualization and mapping. Opportunities include potential collaborations with the “smart home” R&D community.

The report identifies significant needs for location-based standards; in particular, open standards that provide for data exchange and availability among different devices and systems. The United States does not have indoor position standards. Achieving consensus and buy-in on such standards is critical and requires significant effort, the report said.

While voice, video and data are already integrated in commercial handheld devices, the public-safety community has yet to leverage the full scope of potential integrated services, including VoIP, digital video broadcasting and the IoT. The report identifies needs for public-safety performance metrics, including accuracy, speed, power and availability, as well as testing for integrated devices. Among other technology R&D needs, the report calls for finding ways to minimize the battery consumption of location-based services systems, which tend to be power drains. In addition, because public-safety communications must cover all geographical areas, ad hoc networks could be developed to bring the technology to events.

The 59-page “The Location-Based Services R&D Roadmap 2015” (NIST Technical Note 1883) can be found here. PSCR plans to develop additional roadmaps in other technology focus areas, including analytics and user interface and experience.

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