MARS – monitoring and response support

Videoprototype, WS1112

The objective is to enhance safety for firefighters and unburden the officer in charge by improved information flow regarding speed and quality.

What is it?

MARS enables real time monitoring of firefighting troops sent into a building. For this purpose, a variety of sensors are deployed within the firefighter’s equipment. These sensors transmit their data to a tablet computer held by the officer in charge who supervises the operation from outside the building. The received data is evaluated by the tablet computer, which automatically notifies the officer in case of an emergency. The officer then can take appropriate actions (give order to retreat, request supplies/replacement troops, etc.) immediately.

How does it work?

Firstly, the officer in charge receives important information about a conflagration on his tablet computer. This information includes a view of the building, the number of occupants and their cultural background, and the source of fire, which can be determined by smoke detectors inside the building. This helps the officer to get an overview of the conflagration even before he arrives at the site.

Secondly, all firefighters are equipped with several sensors measuring vital functions, such as heart rate or respiration frequency. Further, some sensors monitor the status of crucial equipment, for example the remaining amount of oxygen in their tanks, others are able to detect ruptures in protective suits. Even indoor localization is possible, either by modern smoke detectors, which can act as a wireless network accessible to fire troops and enable the measurement of received signal strength, in combination with a six axis electronic compass and accelerometer as part of the firefighter’s equipment, or by the deployment of maximum range antennas around the site and triangulation if the indoor smoke detectors are destroyed due to the conflagration.

This information is then transmitted to the tablet computer held by the officer in charge, where the data is evaluated. The officer is able to check up the overall status by a quick glance at the tablet. In the case of emergency, i.e. if any sensor measures and transmits critical values, the officer in charge will be notified automatically. The affected firefighter or equipment is displayed on the screen of the tablet and suggestions for next steps are presented accordingly. For example, the officer can choose to open a communication channel to the firefighters to give the order to retreat. The officer also has the option to request supplies from the central fire station, using the tablet instead of making a call. The interface in this specific scenario already shows a pre-selected list of the required amount of supplies according to the emergency. Hence, the officer can request necessary supplies with only one gesture, but still remains able to amend the list of supplies if needed.

What is its potential?

MARS offers enhanced safety for firefighters, especially in the event of an emergency. The officer in charge can take actions immediately based on detailed information coming from sensors which are deployed within the firefighter’s equipment.

This monitoring and response support system could be integrated into a modern framework of resource management. A framework could consist of three different levels: First, the single firefighter, whose equipment contains a variety of sensors for real time monitoring. Second, the officer in charge who is in control of a tablet computer, receives all relevant information from its troops and take actions accordingly. Third, the central fire station. By the use of a digital operation desk, units could be monitored and controlled. Supply requests could be handled sending supplies and replacement troops by the use of gestures.

How would future work on this concept look like?

Initially, a prototype of a sensing-transmitting unit that does not restrict the firefighter would have to be built. Afterwards, the challenge of developing a communication protocol for the use between the sensing-transmitting unit and the tablet computer would have to be dealt with. Signal strength and range have to be sufficient, too, so a solution to this must be thought of thoroughly.

The next step would be the creation of a user interface on the tablet computer, that includes all necessary functions on the one hand, but still is user friendly. One has to consider that the officer in charge wears protective gloves, so the these must be modified to be used with the tablet. The menu items and buttons have to be big enough for the rather imprecise movement and pointing due to the gloves.

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MARS – Monitoring And Response Support

Concept, WS1112

Day 3

Having gathered plenty of input from our visits to two fire stations, we created an affinity diagram and swim lane diagram in the process of task analysis in order to evaluate our ideas and thoughts.

Day 4

Our findings from day 3 formed the basis for further development of our concept. We deal with monitoring and response to improve information flow between all instances involved in the process of firefighting. We can offer a high standard in safety by transmitting data gathered by sensors, which are deployed on the firefighters’ uniforms, to a tablet computer held by the officer in charge. Using MARS (Monitoring And Response Support) the officer can react in an appropriate way, e.g. request replacements for injured troops, immediately. Further applications include the management of resources and maintaining supplies.

Day 5

Today we presented our concept in front of the other students as well as a selected group of professionals from companies like Google and designaffairs. We used their feedback to refine our concept and are looking forward to the video prototyping next week.

User Research: Firefighters

User Research, WS1112

Firefighters play an important role in our society. Despite common belief, they not only deal with fighing fire, but are also called in the event of environmental catastrophes and medical emergencies. We spent the last two days visiting two fire stations in Munich.

Day 1

On Monday, we visited fire station 7 of the professional fire brigade in Moosach, which covers the area of Milbertshofen. Here, Thomas Hüller and Dieter Seidl gave us an extensive overview over duties and every day life at a fire station. We had the chance to watch a fire drill of the crew and were able to take a close look at used technology and specially equipped vehicles.


Day 2

We were invited to the main fire station of Munich by chief press officer Matthias Ott on Tuesday. In a friendly conversation, he told us what future may look like by showing us recent technological research in the field of catastrophe management. His colleague, Anton Schrödl, answered questions about problems in coordination and management of machinery and troops in action.


We were strongly impressed by their open and friendly support and already have many ideas about concepts based on the gathered information.