Not only do firefighters have dangerous jobs, but they often work in dark, smoke-filled environments where they'd be difficult to find if they ran into trouble. A new motion-powered wearable sensor could make all the difference in such situations.

Developed by an international team of scientists, the inexpensive button-battery-sized device is largely made up of a new carbon aerogel nanocomposite. Not only is this material fireproof up to at least 300 ºC (572 ºF), but it also serves as a triboelectric generator, harvesting electricity from the friction produced by movement.

Worn someplace such as the sole of a boot or the arm of a jacket, it produces an electrical current as long as its wearer is moving.

Therefore, were the sensor to be equipped with a nanoantenna, it would be able to continuously transmit a signal to crew members outside of a burning structure. If its wearer were to become incapacitated and they stopped moving for an extended period, however, the current and thus the signal would cease. This would let the crews know that their assistance was required inside.

McMaster University's Prof. Ravi Selvaganapathy, who is overseeing the project, tells us that the firefighter's location could then be ascertained "using triangulation where many receivers are positioned around a building."

A paper on the research, which also involves scientists from UCLA and the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague, was published this week in the journal Nano Energy.

"It's exciting to develop something that could save someone's life in the future," says McMaster PhD student Islam Hassan, coauthor of the paper. "If firefighters use our technology and we can save someone's life, that would be great."

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