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Firefighters to use AR headsets to identify equipment, spot defects, as part of 5G project

SINGAPORE – Firefighters will soon don smart augmented reality (AR) headsets that can instantly identify firefighting equipment and detect missing items and defects.

They will also be equipped with tablets that can stream high-resolution footage to an operations centre, where specialists away from the site can add live annotations to the wearer’s view of an emergency.

The technology is among the earliest use cases of 5G in homeland security, as part of the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) 5G network project – a collaboration between IBM, StarHub, Home Team Science and Technology Agency, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

The project was announced on Wednesday ahead of IBM’s Think Singapore 2023 tech event, which takes place on Sept 14 at the Marina Bay Sands.

The trial will use new AI and mixed reality tools to support manpower and boost the effectiveness of the fire department’s operations, starting with a total of eight headsets for the Central Fire Station and Punggol Fire Station over the next two years.

The new systems will tap the speed and bandwidth of 5G, which enables crisp footage, analytics and virtual collaboration to occur seamlessly during operations, Deputy Commissioner of Future Technology and Public Safety Ling Young Ern told the media.

Firefighters on the front lines equipped with a tablet, which has an AR video conferencing app, can live-stream high-resolution footage to experts who are not present at the emergency for more comprehensive investigations, he said.

Specialists at the operations centre can make digital annotations on the live footage, such as the likely cause of the fire and where it started, which is beamed to the firefighter in real-time, said an IBM spokesman in a demonstration of the technology.

At the fire station, the headset will support SCDF personnel with a virtual checklist and step-by-step guide during inventory checks, which firefighters conduct up to several times a day. The AI will be able to recognise each object, spot defects and advise personnel on steps to take.

DC Ling said: “With this technology, we can simply take a picture with the AR glasses, and the AI can come in to spot which equipment is missing or not in order. That will speed up things a lot.”

Instructions from the AI and other information are displayed on the lens and the user can control the interface via voice commands, allowing the wearer’s hands to be free.

SCDF is working with IBM to train the AI algorithm to recognise its inventory items before the technology can be rolled out, said DC Ling, who was asked how the AI’s developers will ensure it produces accurate information.

“The responsibility comes back to the human,” he said. “It is up to the human to understand what the AI can do and cannot do, and the limits of how he should use the AI.”

The collaboration adds to a list of 5G projects to boost homeland security here, including surveillance operations in Sentosa, which will tap the network to run drones and unmanned vehicles.

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