A jacket turned into a smartphone enables users to communicate via a secure private network as well as connect to social media.
The garment riddled with sensors and wires has been designed by Norwegian researchers to facilitate work of firefighters and other teams involved in search and rescue operations, as using handheld gadgets in such demanding circumstances might be inconvenient.
The team from the SINTEF research institute first fitted the jacket with speakers integrated into the pockets and a small display sewn into a sleeve. The high-tech apparel is equipped with its own batteries and a technology that makes the collar vibrate when a message is received.
In the second step, the team managed to connect the jacket to Facebook.
"Making the connection to Facebook was just one example", said SINTEF researchers Thomas Vilarinho. "The jacket is now all set to be integrated with a variety of social media platforms. Our aim has always been to create a platform on which we can integrate all social media services such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This has now been completed.”
However, in order to be deployed in action with fire fighters, the jacket would have to allow highly secure and private communication – something social media certainly don’t offer. The team has therefore developed a peer-to-peer system, allowing the operations coordinator to send messages from his or her computer to all firefighters through a WiFi Direct system. The recipients however, can neither respond back using the jacket nor communicate with other jacket-users.
At this stage, the system only works across rather short distances – between 20 and 50 metres. The researchers believe its major advantage is the fact it is not dependent on mobile networks, which tend to be adversely affected by major disasters.
"Our starting point is that these teams must maintain high levels of coordination and communication among themselves while a rescue operation is in progress," Vilarinho said.
The SITNEF team has been gathering feedback on their device during a series of focus groups with the Irish fire service, and the civil defence personnel in Ireland and India.
"In conversations with Red Cross, police and fire service personnel in Ireland, they have always emphasised how vital it is to keep information within the team in question. They are very careful about what information they distribute outside the team", explained Vilarinho.
The jacket was developed as part of the EU-funded project SOCIETIES, which aims to design novel technological solutions to facilitate communication between groups.