The third edition of Shanghai Smart Home Technology (SSHT) concluded on a bright note. The fair was held concurrently with Shanghai Intelligent Building Technology (SIBT) from 5 – 7 September 2017 at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre in Shanghai. Collectively, the two shows hosted 240 exhibitors from 13 countries and regions which showcased the latest smart home and intelligent building innovations. The fairs also welcomed a record-breaking 27,275 visitors, an 18% increase from last year, from 54 countries and regions.

Regarding this year‘s fair, Ms Lucia Wong, Deputy General Manager of Messe Frankfurt (Shanghai) Co Ltd, commented: “I would like to express my gratitude to our co-organisers, especially China Smart Home Industry Alliance (CSHIA) as well as all of our industry peers for their support. This year, SSHT elaborated on current industry movements through four concepts — ‘innovation’, ‘core technology’, ‘trends’ and ‘connectivity’.

The development of Internet of Things (IoT), big data and cloud platform has changed our everyday habits and these ongoing developments are driving the smart home industry to go further. The fair successfully positions itself as a one-stop showcase platform covering a full spectrum of exhibits. In order to foster information exchange and collaboration, we organised a series of seminars and forums. To make smart living a reality we will require new ideas, hardware and above all a close-knit industry. We are confident to make SSHT an influential event to offer a comprehensive display for industry professionals.”

The concepts of ‘innovation’, ‘core technology’, ‘trends’ and ‘connectivity’ help illustrate future industry progression.

Innovation – Gathering leading brands to exhibit the latest inventions

As smart technlogies evolve, the market is continually searching for cutting-edge solutions. SSHT gathers renowned overseas and domestic brands to present their latest technologies. Featured exhibitors included ABB, ANJUBAO, Apollo, Atte, AVE-Leelen, backaudio, Baiwei, Cinemaster, Crodigy, CSHIA, Dnake, Dorlink, Eastsoft, EnOcean Alliance, Fantem, Haier, HDL, HEKR, Hi-Champ, Honyar, HUTLON, KNX Association, Konke, Moorgen, Ohosure, RAYING, Rici, Sonos, T-touching, Tijio, UIOT, Wensi and Wise.

From individual smart home products to total solutions

"The significant application of smart home technologies can be well illustrated by the rollout of smart features within new-built homes"

Following the success of individual smart home products entering into homes, the growing demand for total solutions is pushing businesses to develop smart home systems that seamlessly connect multiple devices under one roof.

Mr Johnnie Lin, CEO of Hangzhou Konke Information Technology Co Ltd, exhibiting at SSHT for the second time, commented: “We would like to connect with system developers, engineers and building decoration companies. We met around 30 potential business partners on the morning of the first day. The significant application of smart home technologies can be well illustrated by the rollout of smart features within new-built homes. Undoubtedly, the fair is further facilitating the industry‘s development.”

Shenzhen Smart & Aspiration Co Ltd is a third-time exhibitor. Mr Zhang Zerui, Manufacturing Director, said: “Our company specialises in individual smart home products. By connecting individual products, a complete smart home system can be built. The visitor flow at our booth was exceptional. We generated over 100 sales leads on the second day alone. The fair is an ideal platform for opening up new markets.”

Thriving development of smart home entertainment and audio-visual (AV)

Home entertainment and AV constitutes an important part of smart home and draws strong interest from the industry. Apart from functionality, visitors also have increasing demands for stylish design and higher levels of user-friendliness. This year, CEDIA organised a training course on home theatre design and a dedicated zone was set up to display the latest technologies from the AV and home entertainment sectors.

Sonos Inc is a smart audio company. Mr Mike Tian, Project Manager, said: “It is the first year for us to exhibit as an individual brand and we displayed our entire product line. Visitors were very interested in our products. On the first day of the fair, we obtained contact information from over 200 visitors. They kept coming to our booth and we received solid business enquiries. Smart AV has overcome the shortcomings of coventional audio equipments. The smart speaker race among Apple, Amazon and Google has revealed the huge potential of the sector.”

Crodigy International Technology Co Ltd showcased its diverse range of AV systems. Mr Chen Liang, Marketing Manager, said: “SSHT is a well-organised and important fair for our branding. Most of the industry peers in China took part in the fair. We met many distributors and partners. The future industry trend will be about developing technologies that make products more stable and user-friendly.”

"SSHT is well-thought-out and there is a good chance to convert the enquiries into business"

Smart door locks and home security are on the rise

Ample demand in the end-users market has contributed to a constant influx of new products into the smart door lock sector. Guangdong HUTLON Technology Co Ltd is one of those smart door lock exhibitors. Mr Liu Guanxian, General Manager, Marketing Centre, said: “We would like to meet distributors and integrators for strategic collaboration. SSHT is well-thought-out and there is a good chance to convert the enquiries into business. Industry peers should continue to focus on developing consumer-oriented technologies.”

First-time exhibitor, Guangdong Digital Technology Co Ltd, specialises in access control. Ms Zhang Shuming, Vice President and General Manager of Smart Integration Business Department, stated: “The visitor flow is impressive, which is favourable for expanding our business. Smart home technologies are already widespread in Germany, the UK and the USA. SSHT enables domestic buyers to see the technologies which they have only heard of before.”

Smart home control systems

Control systems enable users to enhance the intelligence, safety, convenience, comfort and energy efficiency of their homes. Mr Chen ZhiXiong, Chairman of the Board, Guangzhou Vensi Intelligent Technology Co Ltd, shared: “Although the concept of smart homes is gaining popularity, it still takes time to raise the market’s awareness. SSHT is influential in China with excellent visitor flow. Next year, we would like to have our booth at the same location.”

Pursue forward-thinking solutions

The ‘New Technology and Product Launch’ presentation with the theme of ‘Smart Home Inspires New Ways of Living’ was held to promote collaboration and provide industry insights for future development. Well-known suppliers that took part in the event include 4G Technology, ABB, ANJUBAO, Baiwei, Crodigy, CSHIA, Haier, Moorgen, Mountains Small, Ohosure, Sonos, UIOT and Umeinfo.

Mr Zhu Huihui, Project Manager of Taizhou Qianxi Smart Technology Ltd was visiting the show for the third time. He commented: “SSHT is one of the most well-organised smart home fairs in China. I am here to find out more about the latest trends. The new features of WeChat and robots in smart home systems were standout exhibits that caught my attention. Visiting the show was very thought-provoking.”

Core technology – Integrating cross-sector expertise to enhance competitiveness

"It was really encouraging to see a full house during the forum and it was well arranged and interactive"

Technological convergence across different sectors is the key of success. Forums covering core technologies were organised to serve as an interactive platform to help industry peers keep abreast of new trends.

Connectivity

HomeGrid Forum is dedicated to promoting G.hn technology, which is a globally recognised gigabit home networking technology. Renowned speaker, Len Dauphinee, Ph. D., Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Broadband Group, MaxLinear Inc, shared: “Smart homes begin with devices. The next level is to connect all the devices together at a low cost. It was really encouraging to see a full house during the forum and it was well arranged and interactive. Attendees actively engaged in the discussion and asked some good questions after the presentation.”

Internet of Things (IoT) technology

The speaker of the forum “ARM Mbed: Internet of Possible”, Mr David Pan, Director of Marketing, Asia, ARM China, said: “It is important to arouse the audience’s interest by exploring the latest successful cases. IoT is no longer a fleeting idea, but a real business application. I believe the forum helped attendees better understand the convergence of smart home and IoT, and also its impacts on smart technologies.”

Trends – Keeping up with market intelligence to capture opportunities for growth

Keeping track of future trends is important for industry professionals in a constantly changing market. SSHT invited domestic and overseas expert speakers to share new ideas during the seminars. Topics included:

Information Security

One of the co-organisers of SSHT, CSHIA, organised “China Smart Home Industry Alliance (CSHIA) Eastern China Summit - The Information Security of Smart Home”. Mr Steven Zhou, Secretary General of CSHIA, stated: “Smart home security is now a reality with concrete technological applications. The forum focused on information security issues which can be of concern to many consumers. A wide range of solutions were displayed and industry viewpoints shared to help further enhance smart home security.”

"The forum was well-arranged with an impressive number of attendees. It is a great platform for exchanging market intelligence"

NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT)

Mr Ge Hantao, Deputy Director of Strategic Planning and Research Department, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), Chief Researcher of IoT Industry, CCTL, was the speaker of “NB-IoT and Smart Home”. He said: “The rise of smart homes can improve people’s lives by reducing the application cost of technologies. The forum was well-arranged with an impressive number of attendees. It is a great platform for exchanging market intelligence.”

Robots

The speaker of “Tencent Qrobot (Second Generation) Intelligent Robot Strategic Launch and Industry Application Summit”, Mr Jin Fang, Director of Smart Device Product, Social Platform Department, Tencent, said: “Artificial intelligence (AI) has been widely used among different sectors. Features such as voice and facial recognition require big data collected by robots. The quality of the audience was incredible which made the forum a great occasion to mingle with experts.”

Connectivity – Enhancing the communication between different smart system providers

A diverse array of forums were organised to enhance the communication and integration among smart system providers. Participating organisations included EnOcean Alliance, KNX Association, LonMark International, Wi-Fi Alliance and Zigbee Alliance.

Wi-Fi Alliance elaborated on the application of smart living by presenting the topic “Wireless to Smart by Wi-Fi Alliance”. Mr Jerry Huang, Director, Greater China Region, Wi-Fi Alliance, said: “I would like to provoke new thinking by illustrating case studies related to chips, modules, solutions, strategy and end-users’ market. The forum was in line with the market’s expectation and the audience was highly engaged in the discussion.”

Zigbee Alliance introduced its technologies and illustrated the application through the topic of “Smart Inside, Beauty Outside”. Ms Laura Shang, China Regional Representative, Zigbee Alliance, said: “Most of the attendees were from the smart home sector which meets our expectation. The guest speakers we invited covered a full spectrum of the industry including chips and modules. It was an efficient platform for industry professionals to discuss the latest trends.”

"Smart hospitals have aroused concerns towards medical issues related to aging populations"

KNX Association organised “KNX Technical Seminar” to explore future developments within smart homes and cities through case studies. Ms Shen Pu, Executive Secretary, KNX China, shared: “In addition to helping the audience better understand our brand, we also provided new angles for audience to examine the industry. Smart hospitals have aroused concerns towards medical issues related to aging populations. The forum was well-attended and audiences’ feedback was positive.”

Cognitive buildings concept

SSHT is organised by Guangzhou Guangya Messe Frankfurt Co Ltd, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade – Shanghai Pudong Sub-Council, Shanghai Hongshan Exhibition Service Co Ltd and the China Smart Home Industry Alliance (CSHIA). The next edition of the fair will be held from 3 – 5 September 2018 at Shanghai New International Expo Centre in China.

SIBT will once again be held concurrently with SSHT to showcase intelligent building technologies and solutions for building energy saving, the smart community and smart hotels. The fair is committed to presenting the concept of Building Internet of Things and driving the industry forward. This will eventually mean the concept of intelligent building evolving from an individual building to a cluster of buildings and moving further towards intelligent technologies and digitisation. Many hope that the idea of cognitive buildings will eventually be realised.

SSHT and SIBT are both headed by the biennial Light + Building event which will take place from 18 – 23 March 2018 in Frankfurt, Germany. Messe Frankfurt also organises a series of light and building technology exhibitions in China including the Shanghai International Lighting Fair, Parking China, Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition and Guangzhou Electrical Building Technology. The company's light and building technology fairs also extend to markets in Argentina, India, Russia, the UAE and other countries and regions.

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Firefighter Uniform Adapts To Cancer Risk, Active Shooter Threat
Firefighter Uniform Adapts To Cancer Risk, Active Shooter Threat

More than an outfit. More thought than one leg at a time. Putting on the uniform is not just an ordinary daily task, but a habitual part of preparing for the unexpected. Yes, a firefighter’s uniform is more than an outfit. Think about who is wearing it and the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis. The firefighter comes from a long line of heroes, a brotherhood and sisterhood, with traditions to uphold and a reputation to maintain. Their uniform is no different. Its historical navy-blue threads. Classic, professional appearance. Tactical features. Technology-driven fabric. Over time, the uniform’s engineering has needed to adapt with new designs and react to worsened exposures and more dangerous rescue missions. The 21st Century firefighter’s uniform is unique and specific to the job with current trends fixating on the best user experience while future plans focus on preventative and safety measures due to increased societal and architectural risks. Comfortable firefighter uniform So, what does the 21st Century firefighter want? Comfort. Beyond Personal Protective Equipment, it is an overwhelming plea for a more comfortable uniform to wear. This includes garments that are easy “wash and wear” materials that do not require additional ironing. Firefighters do not want to lose the professional appearance or tactical functionality of the uniform The trend calls for lightweight, breathable, cool-weather wear that is less restrictive and offers more give and more stretch so firefighters can perform their job responsibilities more efficiently. However, they do not want to lose the professional appearance or tactical functionality of the uniform. “We need something that looks presentable every time,” said Chief Robert Burdette of Grand Blanc Fire Department, Michigan. Additionally, more firefighters are also starting to wear polo shirts or mesh T-shirts under their Turnout gear, for a lighter weight, more breathable option from the traditional uniform shirt. The trend calls for lightweight, breathable, cool-weather wear that is less restrictive Risk of cancer Unfortunately, comfort is not the only concern firefighters have when it comes to uniforms, or their safety in general. As risky and demanding of a profession the fire service can be, the fires have proven not to be the most hazardous or life threatening. According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, “Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today.” A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concluded that firefighters have a 9% increased chance of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% increased chance to die from cancer compared to the general United States population. Chief Dennis Jenkerson of the St. Louis Fire Department in Missouri is one of many chiefs actively fighting these statistics. Responsible for 32 firehouses, Jenkerson has witnessed the reality of this threat with the loss of four of his own and understands the validity of the situation. For the last 18 months, the St. Louis Fire Department has made headway implementing a drastic culture change by evaluating everything from equipment, apparel, lifestyle and more.  Cancer affecting firefighters “It is so prevalent that everything we do anymore has to do with some emphasis on protecting firefighters from getting cancer,” said Chief Mike Ramm of Sylvania Township Fire Department, Ohio. “Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today” According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the cancers that have mostly affected firefighters are respiratory (lung, mesothelioma), gastrointestinal (oral cavity, esophageal, large intestine) and kidney. “Testicular cancer is through the roof,” added Jenkerson, who has pushed his firefighters to get tested for cancers earlier than normally necessary. He also explained that the imagery of a firefighter drinking from a fire hydrant can no longer happen. He emphasized the importance of cleaning up instantly after every fire. Think of the simple act of removing grimy gloves after a call – at least one hand has been exposed to the cancerous contaminants if it was accidentally used to take off the other glove. If that unwashed, contaminated hand touches food that goes into the mouth of the firefighter, he/she is essentially eating what may cause esophageal, oral cavity or gastric cancers. Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) via the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, cancer caused 61% of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from January 1, 2002 to March 31, 2017. Additionally, 70% of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters were because of cancer in 2016. Unfortunately, this hazard is not going away any time soon. The new building materials and new house furnishings have become the culprit for this major concern. These materials are man-made and are not of natural resources. When burned, they create deadly carcinogens that the firefighters are getting exposed to firsthand. Immediate decontamination process Jenkerson’s implementation of a culture change includes an immediate decontamination process following a fire, which involves getting hosed with water, cleansing wipes for all soft tissue areas of the body and an immediate shower back at the station. “Any place you can get a five degree rise in skin temperature, the absorption level goes up 10 times,” Jenkerson warned. His firefighters are instructed to remove their bunker gear, uniform, helmet and all other equipment right away that get immediately washed once they have returned to the station. Hems, collars, cuffs and cargo pockets are areas of the uniform where toxins get caught He also restricts all firefighters and EMTs from going on a second run until they have showered and have put on a new, clean set of clothes, all the way down to their underwear. “There are no two-runs. We have to get this stuff off [of them].” Uniform manufacturers are tasked with finding a solution to help facilitate Jenkerson’s and other Fire Chiefs’ visions by designing a uniform with as little gaps and fold-over materials as possible. “Everything needs to be sealed tight,” Jenkerson explained. Hems, collars, cuffs and cargo pockets are all areas of the uniform where toxins get caught. A lightweight shirt option that offers a crew collar with a two to three button placket and a lightweight, ventilated hidden cargo pant could be the future of fire uniforms. “There isn’t another profession that has the thousands of dangers that we have every day,” Ramm explained. Additional and ongoing efforts currently underway according to the NFPA Journal, include those by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the Congressional Firefighter Cancer Registry, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the FPRF Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control, and the International Association of Firefighters. Active shooter emergency response Firefighters and EMTs increasingly need to wear bullet proof vests with the surge in active shooter calls An additional and unfortunate trend that is also sweeping the nation is the need for firefighters and EMTs to wear bullet proof vests. Departments are trying their best to arm their men and women with this protection along with ballistic helmets in certain regions due to the surge in active shooter calls. “In areas that have a lot of gang-related activity, [bullet proof vests] would be beneficial,” said Jason Reyes of Allen Fire Department, Texas. “Sometimes you go on calls when the city doesn’t have enough police to respond to calls, which creates a situation that leaves firefighters unprotected and vulnerable.” Currently the market has ballistic vests available that can either be worn over or under a firefighter’s uniform and under their bunker gear. Uniform manufacturers also offer an external vest carrier option that is worn over a firefighter’s uniform to look like part of the uniform shirt to maintain a professional appearance. Distinguishing firefighters from law enforcement “Firefighters find themselves becoming targets more and more these days,” added Deputy Chief of Operations Dwayne Jamison of Bartow County Fire Department, Georgia. “Many departments, including my own, are looking to outfit their firefighters with bullet proof vests.” Although this trend has not affected every region, industry experts can see the need becoming more widespread if threats continue to increase the way they have been. Along the same lines, firefighters want to be identified as firefighters and not mistaken for law enforcement. “We don’t want to look like police,” Jenkerson said. “We want to be identified as firefighters. Even if it takes a different stripe.” When it comes to uniform trends for firefighters, it is clear there is more to focus on than the technical details. For many fire departments, future trends could serve as a tool to prevent deadly toxins from being absorbed and from lethal bullets puncturing unprotected firefighters and EMTs. The uniform is more than an outfit. With a larger purpose than to shield a body, the uniform goes beyond the navy-blue threads, professional appearance and tactical features to one day supporting what could be a lifesaving concept. Sources Firefighter Cancer Support Network, Preventing Cancer in the Fire Service National Fire Protection Association,  Firefighters and Cancer NFPA Journal, Fast Track: Some of the national efforts underway to fight cancer in the fire service; Roman, Jesse; 2017 

How Fire Departments Use Drones To Save Lives
How Fire Departments Use Drones To Save Lives

Cost justification of drones is easy if you compare the cost with operating a helicopter Drones are an important new tool for the fire service and have already proven their ability to save lives. Willingness to embrace drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs]) for fire applications varies widely by department, and it’s not just larger departments that are making the investment. Some smaller departments are investing in drones in a big way, even as some larger departments are reticent. Firefighting Drone Programs Departments may start with a small drone just to “try it out” and to prove its usefulness to upper management. Other departments start with a budgeted amount for their drone program and go from there. According to Matt Sloan, CEO of Skyfire Consulting, the average drone program is around $35,000 to $40,000, which provides drones, thermal imaging, cameras, operation costs – all of it. Drone programs are not covered by Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) grants, however. As little as $1,500 can buy an “eye in the sky” drone (without thermal functionality).  Sloan says the top question he used to get asked by potential customers was “How do I use this thing?” Now the top question is “How do I sell it to my chief?” Sloan has done hundreds of demonstrations of drone technology to fire departments and has never heard anyone say “I don’t see how that would be useful.” In fact, cost justification of drones is easy if you compare the cost with operating a helicopter, the closest alternative to provide comparable information. Sloan says implementing a drone program is equivalent in cost to “between 40 and 50 hours” of operating a helicopter.  “There is still a misperception that drones are toys,” says Sloan. “But people’s lives are being saved so we’re past that stage.” He compares the reception to drones in the fire service to initial resistance to the use of thermal cameras. “Now everyone has one,” he says. A drone can provide a 360-degree view of a single-family house fire within seconds Effectiveness Of Drones In Fire Applications Education is an important element in spreading the word about the effectiveness of drones for fire applications, says Sloan. A fire department might choose to implement a drone program after they experience a situation in which a drone would have been a useful asset. Drones can be helpful for hazardous materials protection, search-and-rescue, and wildfire applications. The value of a drone boils down to providing better information for decision-making. In the case of a hazardous material spill, for example, a drone can provide information much faster than it would take personnel to don hazmat garments to approach an area safely; there is also no risk to life. A drone can provide a 360-degree view of a single-family house fire within seconds. A thermal imaging camera mounted on a drone can provide instant feedback on hot spots and where the fire is moving. Some drones can drop payloads; for example, they can drop a life jacket to a swimmer or a radio to someone who is trapped. Drones can also be helpful in training, providing high-level views to document activity for evaluation after the fact.  Communication with a drone is localized between the drone and the remote control. A smart phone or tablet can be plugged into the drone’s remote to communicate images across the Internet. The remote’s HDMI output also allows a drone’s image to be displayed on a TV monitor. How To Start A Drone Program Skyfire Consulting provides a “one-stop shop” for fire and police departments seeking to start a drone program. The company helps with choosing the right equipment, performs on-site training, guides the department to obtain the needed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorizations, and aids with developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and policies. Implementation of the average drone program takes three to six months. FAA authorization to fly drones comes in two varieties. Drones can be flown under Part 107 rules for commercial use and for video production. The authorization merely requires passing a 60-question written test with a 70 percent score. The certification is good for two years and allows an operator to fly drones up to 400 feet in line-of-site, and within Class G (uncontrolled) air space. A downside is that the permit assigns liability to the operator (and a waiver may or may not be granted). Departments are buying a variety of drones in combinations of large and small Obtaining A Certificate Of Authorization The second variety of FAA authorization is a COA (Certificate of Authorization), which assigns liability to the department operating the drones. It also allows the department to self-certify their operators, perform training, and operate in some controlled air space if a waiver is granted. Earning a COA is more complicated, but offers benefits, including the ability to train new operators in a department that has turnover. Line-of-site operation is a requirement for flying any drones. Line-of-site is typically three-fourths of a mile, and drones are equipped with bright lights and anti-collision lights (visible for three nautical miles). Sloan says the FAA is generally very positive about public safety uses of drones and works with departments to get their drone programs in place. Choosing Between Small And Large Drones A popular drone manufacturer is DJI Technology, which has a dominant share of the consumer drone market. A popular model is the DJI Phantom drones, which provide 35 minutes of flight time and a good camera. For other sensors, something larger is needed. Departments are buying a variety of drones in combinations of large and small. Small drones perform tactical missions and can fly through a window, while larger drones can be equipped with thermal and/or zoom cameras. The price tags on individual drones range from $500 to $30,000 or more. Larry Anderson Editor TheBigRedGuide.com

Virtual Reality Emerging As A Training Tool In The Fire Service
Virtual Reality Emerging As A Training Tool In The Fire Service

Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging tool for training in the fire service The dangers of firefighting make it unfriendly to the concept of the learning curve. Before they put their lives on the line, firefighters should have knowledge and experience. But gaining knowledge and experience in the firefighting environment presents its own dangers. Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging tool for training in the fire service. Recreating the firefighting experience realistically in a virtual world is a useful – and safer – alternative to on-the-job training. It is also less expensive than some other training options, such as recreation of realistic fire rescue scenarios.  “For a situation when someone’s life would be in danger, a virtual reality experience can enable them to practice in the safety of their own environments,” says Michael Schreiner, Senior Director of Content for Target Solutions, which is developing VR training for firefighters. “In real life, the building would be on fire and they would have to make life-or-death decisions. With virtual reality, firefighters can make a mistake about how to attack a fire without putting themselves in danger.” Virtual Reality Firefighter Training Target Solutions, a brand of Vector Solutions, Tampa, Florida, has partnered with Pasco County (Fla.) Fire Rescue to develop a lifelike 360-degree VR “smoke reading” training course. Creating the course involved a 360-degree Virtual Reality video shoot using drone technology to film actual firefighters training in real-life simulations. The video was created with expert help from consultants and field insights from subject matter experts, fire service instructors, and paramedics. Learners using the course wear VR goggles and are immersed in a virtual environment where they will receive instruction on how to read smoke and to decide how to attack a fire based on what the smoke tells them. Reading smoke involves judging the color, volume, density and rate of rise. For example, the seat of a fire tends to produce smoke that is thick and dark and has a high rate of rise; in contrast, smoke elsewhere is a burning building might be light and wispy. Firefighters have to make split-second decisions based on the appearance of smoke, and deciding wrong can have dire consequences. Another benefit of virtual reality in training is lower costs Making Better Decisions The 12-minute-or-so smoke reading “micro-course” uses a story-based approach to emphasize the emotional elements of decision-making. Schreiner says people learn best when emotions are tied into the learning. Elements of the training scenario include exposition, rising action, a crisis and a resolution. Unrelenting “heartbeat” sounds promote a sense of urgency. The course then evaluates whether a learner made the right decision. The course can be practiced over and over. The idea is for firefighters to develop “muscle memory” to make better decisions under pressure in a real situation. Vector Solutions chose shooting a video for a real-world effect over computer-generated graphics, which are more expensive but less realistic. For the video training, smoke graphic effects were added in post-production. Lower Training Costs Another benefit of virtual reality in training is lower costs. The training session used to shoot the 360-degree video cost around $20,000, which is typical of similar training exercises. Mobilizing a ladder truck, two fire trucks, a fire rescue truck and commander’s vehicles are all part of the costs, as are the costs (including overtime) of 13 firefighters taking part in the exercise. VR is a relatively new learning tool, and Schreiner says feedback from the market will make it clear how effective it is. “We can immerse a person in a situation and it’s a safe environment, but we have to let our learners tell us how effective it is,” he says. “We will get feedback from learners and training administration. It’s another tool in the toolbox, but it will not totally replace real-life training.” VR Training For Dangerous Professions Schreiner says VR is a huge training opportunity for any type of dangerous profession, whether construction workers operating on scaffolding, or educators in an active shooter situation. “Where safety is a risk, VR will really start taking off,” he says. Almost 6,000 clients across the United States use Target Solutions training products, including courses that are specific to the fire service, such as "Cancer Related Risks of Firefighting."

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