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Can a fake rescue help you save a real person? Researchers testing virtual reality think so

Posted at 10:19 AM, Jun 19, 2018

First responders know seconds can count when it comes to saving lives. And now they're getting help to do that by shifting from our everyday reality to a virtual one. It could be a game changer.

In seconds a headset took correspondent Kumasi Aaron to a virtual world. And controllers gave her virtual hands. In moments, her only focus was making it through a virtual burning office, and rescuing the person inside.

She encountered some surprises. But eventually, success.

But this wasn't just some game to beat. It's a tool that could eventually help save lives.

The team at the Public Safety Communications Research division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology is working to develop technology to help first responders and public safety workers communicate and operate even better in emergencies.

"So imagine in the future firefighters instead of carrying a cell phone have a heads up display inside of their mask that shows them location." said PSCR Division Chief Dereck Orr. "Or shows them how much air they have left or shows them what their respiration rate or heart rate is."

To get to that point, the team has to do testing, which can be challenging. They tried a lab.

"It looks very safe," Orr said. "It looks very clean. It doesn't look anything like a public safety scenario."

What about real life?

"Well now it's dangerous," Orr said. "It's not repeatable and it's not controllable. So that doesn't work for us either."

That's where virtual reality comes in.

"Until you put it on and you experience it you don't really understand how quickly you can immerse yourself into that environment," Orr said.

The team held a contest to see who could come up with the design to best showcase navigational information. But it doesn't stop there.

"Whatever we find is effective and efficient with our test environment. We're looking to model that same type of testing into a physical space using an augmented reality headset," said Orr.

Kumasi Aaron got to try out Hololens too, which displayed fun images like the planet Saturn and an astronaut. But for first responders they'd be holograms with vital information, and could even be controlled with hand gestures.

And while you might not see these tools being used immediately, they are a far cry from traditional public safety technology. Inspiring a push to move forward, for an ever safer reality.