In large and small communities across the country, emergency responders, commercial infrastructure building owners and operators have a common objective: public safety. As smart phones, devices, and sensors evolve to allow for more interconnectivity, communities are becoming more resilient, allowing for earlier and improved alerts, warnings and notifications. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is bringing key industry and government partners together to ensure Smart City and IoT technologies are integrated and applied to meet critical infrastructure needs and the first responders.
S&T established the Smart City IoT Innovation (SCITI, pronounced ‘CITY’) Labs in collaboration with the Center for Innovative Technology, TechNexus and Smart City Works to focus on applying new and existing technologies to public safety needs, with an emphasis on extensive validation and go-to-market support through industry partners. In its first year, the SCITI Labs partnership funded development and initial testing of several prototype technologies in three overarching program areas. Moving forward, the ultimate goal is to make Smart City and IoT capabilities commercially available for industry, public safety and national security partners by 2020.
Laying Groundwork for Prototype Development and Operational Testing
After a highly competitive selection process, 12 performers were awarded funding to develop initial prototypes of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), in-building sensors, and a sensor and communications SmartHub. SCITI Labs, managed by DHS S&T’s Jeff Booth, identified new and existing public safety technologies in these areas, assessed prototype capabilities and gained end-user and stakeholder input—particularly from industry partners who are critical to bringing these tools to market.
“We are looking to integrate and advance existing technologies applied to new challenges faced by first responders and the critical infrastructure commercial industry,” said Booth of the initial awards and resulting prototypes. “If we can address the commercialization hurdles, then adoption by both the responder and real estate communities will be more likely.”
In June 2018, the 12 SCITI Labs performers began work on prototype technologies in the three capability areas, which were selected based on emergency responder operational needs. Booth explained that for the work related to UAS, focus remained on indoor search and rescue, where missions in difficult environments—such as tunnels or collapsed or damaged structures—are difficult and endanger responders and those they aim to rescue.
For the in-building sensors, performers focused on developing intelligent suites (digital imagery, video, thermal or Wi-Fi finder) that can be mounted on fixed indoor building features, such as smoke detectors or exit signs. This will allow building operators to improve day-to-day operations and first responders to rapidly prioritize search and rescue areas when emergencies occur.
Finally, for efforts related to creating a SmartHub, performers focused on developing a body-worn responder interoperability platform that integrates personal area network communications with third-party sensor packages. The SmartHub will enhance emergency responder situational awareness and support enhanced mission-critical operations.
Industry and End-User Engagement Fosters Innovation and Technology Adoption
Throughout this first phase, S&T and SCITI Labs ensured each of the technology providers have market access and development capital and that their technologies align with commercial opportunities in broader infrastructure-related industries. To achieve this, the partners work hand-in-hand with industry to identify the best business approaches for transitioning these technologies into daily use.
Ronald White from the Boston Fire Department expressed why Boston is involved with SCITI Labs when he said, “For us, it’s the ability to see what’s on the horizon. To see what people are looking at developing in order for us to have an easier job doing what we do. It’s incredible what is out there and the amount of data we can accumulate and how people can give it to us in different ways to improve the way we do our job.”
The relationships built with these stakeholders are critical to the success of the SCITI Labs effort, as they will ultimately own the environment in which these technologies operate and will foster adoption by emergency responders.
In July 2017, SCITI Labs held an industry and end-user technology showcase in Chicago to introduce the technology providers to private sector partners and first responders in order to validate capabilities and work together to guide development, adoption and commercialization strategies.
The 12 performers incorporated feedback gathered in Chicago into final prototypes, which were then tested at the SCITI Labs Developmental Test and Evaluation (DTE) Event in October 2018 at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) using simulated search and identify scenarios to ensure they meet the needs of public safety stakeholders. The stakeholders were also on hand to provide feedback about how each of the technologies will contribute to daily and emergency operations.
Booth explained that the results and findings of the DTE will inform the selection of Phase II technology performers. Feedback from stakeholders will be used to refine the activities and objectives of Phase II operational tests and commercialization activities.
Initial SCITI Labs Successes
The DTE provided a key platform for the technology performers to demonstrate the applicability of their technologies to public safety operations and the potential overall impact, such as improved first responder efficiency and situational awareness.
For instance, during a simulated search and identify scenario, responders were able to adjust baseline operating procedures using the information provided by SCITI Labs technologies—changing the building ingress point based on video data, donning protective gear outside instead of inside because of a gas sensor reading or modifying clearance patterns based on sensor detection of individuals inside buildings.
- SmartHub performers were able to demonstrate GPS location, physiological sensors, hands-free communication and video streaming. The critical aspect of the SmartHub technologies was the ability to seamlessly move and share information up and down the chain of command.
- In-building sensor performers demonstrated the ability to connect disparate capabilities in very short periods of time, providing interoperability and timely information to inform decision-making.
- UAS performers demonstrated capabilities for mapping interior spaces using LiDAR and sonar capabilities. The ultimate goal of the UAS performers is to develop automated flight capabilities for degraded and confined spaces.
While the SCITI Labs technologies are at different stages of product maturity, a number of the technologies funded in Phase I have already demonstrated impact in the market and to the public safety community.
Operational Testing and Technology Transition
The second phase of the SCITI Labs initiative will launch in early 2019 with a more focused scope. Half a dozen performers will be selected to receive funding to execute additional product enhancements and operational tests with DHS Components, responders and industry stakeholders. S&T and its SCITI Labs partners will work with performers to bring the technologies from prototype to market-ready and to develop commercialization and adoption strategies.