It's important for firefighters or members of disaster response crews to stay in touch with one another during operations, which is of course why they carry two-way radios. Researchers from Norway's SINTEF group, however, are developing a system that could help even more. It allows users to receive and read text messages hands-free, via their jackets.
The prototype jacket, developed in a collaboration with students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has electronics sewn into it, including a narrow LCD screen on the sleeve. The idea is that all members of a rescue crew will be wearing the jackets, which will be in wireless contact with one another, and with the team leader.
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When that leader sends a message out from their phone or computer, the jackets receive it, and alert the wearers by activating a buzzer in the collar. The users then look down at the screen, where they can read the message as it scrolls across.
While a smartphone could serve the same purpose to a limited extent, firefighters likely wouldn't want to dig out their phone and hold it up every time they received a message. Additionally, particularly in the case of disaster sites, mobile networks might not always be available.
The SINTEF jacket instead utilizes a private Wi-Fi Direct system, in which a single message is relayed from jacket to jacket, as long as they're no more than 50 meters (164 ft) apart. The technology was originally developed using web-based social media platforms such as Facebook to share the messages, which could still prove practical for other applications.
So far, however, it's still not possible for jacket-wearers to respond to messages, or to send them to one another.