RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK & WHITE CROSS – RTI International will develop a virtual training for first responders using the Microsoft HoloLens 2, and will design and test the technology in partnership with the White Cross Fire Department.

The effort will be led by Robert Furberg, Ph.D., a senior clinical informaticist at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute based in Research Triangle Park.  Furberg is also a part-time firefighter and science officer for the White Cross Fire Department, according to a LinkedIn profile.

“This is truly innovative work and a big step in the right direction toward not only increasing safety for firefighters during training, but the safety of our community,” said Furberg in a statement issued by RTI International.

The White Cross Fire Department operates two fire stations in Orange County, with some 40 volunteer firefighters and one career firefighter, according to the organization’s website.

According to its statement, RTI International plans to use a first responder centered design approach, and the training will be used to improve pump panel operation for firefighters in the department.  It will be the first opportunity for the RTI International team to develop content for the HoloLens 2, Furberg told WRAL TechWire.

Pump panel operation is complex, according to the statement.  The operator “controls water flow and pressure as firefighters tend to a blaze,” the statement notes.

The virtual training, enhanced with augmented reality using Microsoft HoloLens 2 devices, is meant to provide an immersive training experience and provide a route for firefighters to learn virtually.



Evaluation of the use of technology to enhance outcomes will be conducted by RTI International, as well.  According to the statement, the initiative is estimated to take two years.

The initiative is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), after the research institute was awarded a $750,000 Cooperative Agreement under NIST’s Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program – Augmented Reality (PSIAP-AR) portfolio in May 2021, Furberg confirmed to WRAL TechWire by email.

According to Furberg, a key submission requirement was the inclusion of a public safety agency partner to facilitate direct engagement between researchers, developers, and emergency services personnel.  Hence, the partnership with White Cross Fire Department. 

The project objectives are to issue guidance for augmented reality technology developers seeking to develop applications for use by the fire service, providing fire service professionals with best practices and guidance on integrating augmented reality into existing training programs, and to establish “a cadre of fire service professionals in North Carolina versed in usability testing,” said Furberg.  Additionally, Furberg noted that the project aims to promote a process of what he called “First Responder Centered Design” and form a “persistent testbed” to independently evaluate augmented reality training products intended to be used by first responders.

“Our hope is that this new AR will improve the training process and give firefighters the ability to practice and improve their skills through virtual experiences rather than on the scene of an emergency,” said White Cross Fire Department Chief Phillip Nasseri, in a statement.

RTI has previously collaborated with the White Cross Fire Department on the 2020 CHARIoT Challenge, Furberg told WRAL TechWire.  The organization also maintains active collaboration on an ongoing project sponsored by the US EPA’s Office of Research and Development.