Swedish engineers have developed a footwear-based positioning system for firefighters

Digital positioning footwear for firefighters

Sensor-equipped boots developed by Swedish researchers enable firefighters to better navigate in smoke-filled areas and underground.

The innovative digital navigation system, developed by a team from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm relies on a number of sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope and processor, placed inside a heel of the firefighter’s shoe.

Designed to withstand high mechanical loads as well as scorching temperatures, the sensors are connected to a shoulder-mounted wireless module that transmits data about the firefighter’s position to an emergency control coordinator, enabling safer and more efficient operation.

“When the firefighters can work safer and more efficiently, they can also save more lives,” said Peter Händel, Professor of Signal Processing at KTH and a member of the research team.

The system, remaining fully operational even in underground environment where GPS-based navigation is not accessible, has been successfully tested in real-time by firefighters 25m below the Earth’s surface

The research team, including Professor Händel, John-Olof Nilsson and Jouni Ranta Kokko, believes the system can find wider use, possibly helping military response forces or medical professionals operating at sites of major accidents or disasters.

The KTH team is now working on integrating the sensors in the soles, which would increase flexibility and extend the range of uses compared with the heel-mounted variant. In the final product, the soles of the firefighters’ boots should be able to generate its own power supply, while being no thicker than soles of ordinary shoes.

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