Editor’s note: If you see firefighters wearing Google Glass in NBC’s “Chicago Fire” someday, there may be a Rocky Mount connection. Google Glass – the wearable computer technology that resembles space-age eyeglasses and features a heads-up display (HUD) just as fighter pilots use in their jets – is more than a tech fad, as Rocky Mount firefighter Patrick Jackson is proving. In an exclusive interview with WRALTechWire, Johnson talks about the app he is developing that turns Glass into potentially life saving technology for firefighters and other emergency workers.
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. – Rocky Mount firefighter Patrick Jackson is developing an app for Google Glass that will enable fire departments to save lives.
Jackson, a self-taught computer programmer, applied to become one of 8,000 Google Glass Explorers. His hope for Glass was clear in his application:
“As a career Firefighter, and a software engineer, I would use it to make firefighter’s job safer and more effective. Mission critical information could be viewed quickly while never taking eyes off of the incident. Pictures and video could be recorded to add in fire investigation and incident critics. Personnel could stream realtime video to hangouts for an overview of the incident – view multiple sides from one location. Occupancy hazards could be in your view instantly instead of flipping through notebooks. Increased situational awareness!”
Jackson received Glass in September of 2013, paying for the device through a successful IndieGoGo campaign. He had been developing an android application, and he is currently testing his technology within his own fire department.
His application, “Firefighter Log,” increases a firefighter’s or a commander’s situational awareness of a situation, he explains. The app, which generates automatic notifications containing pertinent information from 911 emergency calls directly to mobile or tablet devices, will also have other practical applications as a Glass technology.
Using his Glassware, firefighters will receive emergency calls directed to Glass instead of dispatch and see the fastest route the emergency location as well as other pertinent information, like the nearest fire hydrant.
Soon, users also be able to search for and view a floor plan, blueprint or other pertinent emergency information about a building before entering it.
“It’s very fast,” said Jackson, “Often times the information will come in before our dispatchers even dispatch us over the radio.”
Though it may save only 60 seconds, the additional head-start complete with full information to a hands-free or hand-held mobile device will enable firefighters to respond to emergency situations quicker and with more knowledge of the scenario than before.
“It’s already come in handy in the fire department,” said Jackson, “I’m excited for the possibilities in further developing the technology.”
The Rocky Mount Fire Department is currently using Jackson’s technology, deploying the app on iPad tablets that reside in every one of the front-line fire engines. This technology is replacing the department’s old system, said Jackson, “which is kind of overkill for what we need in a fire truck.” The old system uses a $3,500 laptop and software setup that is more expensive than other options.
“The tablets are a perfect fit,” said Jackson. “The touchscreen is easy to use and we get the information we need as instantly as we’re able.” The current setup could currently be reduced to the price of an iPad, plus the price of the Firefighter Log application.
New York Fire Department Interested
In the future, however, Jackson sees Glass as an incredibly powerful device, primarily because it is hands-free and could be custom-installed into hardware that firefighter’s use in the most severe situations.
For this reason, Jackson learned new programming languages, teaching himself how to code and develop for the Android platform. With Glass, Jackson sees a future of incredibly possibility.
Through a connection with Google, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) contacted Jackson with interest in his technology.
“They’re interested in putting the technology inside an SCBA mask [self-contained breathing apparatus],” said Jackson. Current technology gives firefighters the ability to use hand-held devices to use heat and thermal imaging to see through thick smoke – but they’re still handheld, and often there is too much smoke in between the display and the visual field of a firefighter. Imagine a hands-free device inside of the mask, said Jackson.
“It would be revolutionary for the fire service, especially if you could outfit every firefighter or every truck,” the firefighter said.
Jackson, who plans to use a subscription model to license Firefighter Log to fire departments and other emergency personnel, has yet to set pricing. But he pointed out: “I plan to make it affordable so that every fire department can use it.”
The app – for iOS, Android, and soon, for Glass – isn’t completely finished. There are still a few features and functions in development, said Jackson. He’s currently seeking seed funding in order to further the development of the technology and plans to start selling the technology to other fire departments in North Carolina within six months.
Rocky Mount Fire Department has been a perfect testing ground, said Jackson.
“I’ve had a lot of interest from other departments – from volunteer departments to cities,” said Jackson, “and most of them know about the mobile app – and ones that I talk to about Google Glass are excited.”
Watch this video, shot entirely through Glass, to see Patrick and his new Glassware in action.