Firefighting is a dangerous gig by nature, so training is particularly important. But training can be just as dangerous, not to mention costly and time-consuming. To help train firefighters more often and more easily, a new virtual reality simulator called the FLAIM Trainer has been developed, made up of an HTC Vive VR headset, haptics systems and a vest that tracks the trainee's vital signs.

Training firefighters requires … well, fighting fires. Unfortunately, it's not always practical, safe or environmentally responsible to just light up a building and send in an unqualified squad to deal with it. Simulations are a decent alternative, but they're not usually that realistic.

And that's where the FLAIM system comes in. It was first unveiled back at CES 2017, as one of several use cases of HTC's then-new Vive Tracker accessories, which can track the movements of whatever they're attached to and replicate them in a virtual world. In this case, the Tracker is attached to the end of a firehose, allowing trainee firefighters to extinguish virtual fires with real-world equipment.

The window into this virtual world is the tried-and-true HTC Vive headset, complete with a custom breathing apparatus kit for authenticity. A detailed haptic feedback system in the hose also simulates the force of the water flow, while the protective clothing worn during the training has heat packs embedded into it, which warm up when the wearer is facing the virtual fire.

The new addition to the setup comes from Dimension Data, as part of a new partnership with FLAIM. Dimension's hitoe vest picks up the electrocardiogram (ECG) readings of the wearer and records data on their fitness, physiological response and performance. This data can then be stored locally or in the cloud, and aggregated to help instructors benchmark and compare results between trainees over time.

"With firefighters facing long periods of inactivity and fighting fewer fires than ever before, this co-innovation initiative will significantly boost the fitness and effectiveness of firefighters all around the world and put them in the best possible position to keep safe and protect our communities," says Ken Mahon, Director Ventures of Deakin Research Innovations.

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