Saving time, saving lives: Mutualink’s world-first wearable tech for first responders uses Intel® technology

Intel® Edison module-powered Wearable Smart Gateway* for first responders delivers seamless inter-agency access to real-time situational intelligence

Thomas Edison was all about connecting people. His lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, was where the Hungarian Tivadar Puskás invented the humble telephone switch in 1877. Prior to that, telephone lines had been hardwired between users, but the introduction of the switches—combined in a switchboard or telephone exchange—allowed a user to connect to any other user on the same network for the very first time.

This vision of interoperability has inspired the work of Mutualink for over 20 years, leading them to develop the Wearable Smart Gateway* (WSG*). Powered by the Intel® Edison board, the WSG is the world’s first wearable communications gateway that lets first responders share multimedia information over secure wide-area networks in real-time. Designed to give command posts and cooperating agencies an unprecedented level of access to live situational intelligence, the technology is built for saving time and, ultimately, lives.

Intel collaborated closely with Mutualink from the early days of WSG development: running design-thinking sessions to refine the design and implementation, and assisting in the analysis of feedback from first responders regarding WSG features and usage needs.

Our ongoing role with the WSG is specifically with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet*) currently being developed for use nationally within the United States. I will shed more light on the WSG and its larger role as part of Intel and Mutualink’s Internet of Public Safety Things * (IoPST*) initiative.

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The WSG is a compact on-body hub with the tiny and ultra-low power Intel® Edison™ board at its heart. It uses Wi-Fi*, wire, or Bluetooth* to connect to devices on or near the user and shares data from those devices via a secure cloud connection with the command post and any other stakeholders or cooperating agencies who need access to it.

Anything that can be digitally measured or captured can be transmitted by the WSG, including video, personal biometric data, GPS coordinates, positions of locator beacons, air composition, or even radiation level. There are many useful applications of this across the police, medical, and fire services: for example, multiple SWAT team members can transmit real-time video giving the command post a holistic view of a “dynamic entry”; a firefighter’s pulse and respiration can be monitored remotely for signs of distress; the position of dropped Bluetooth beacons can help a second wave of paramedics find victims in an environment where GPS data is unavailable or compromised.

Data is transmitted from the WSG by tethering it to a mobile phone using any commercial 4G network or, once available, to FirstNet.  FirstNet is a very exciting national program to provide a network dedicated to the sole use of first responders. It’s currently in its consultation phase and in some areas of the United States is actually being tested. The WSG is exactly the kind of device that FirstNet is designed for: it’s secure, and it sidesteps the limitations of public networks, such as the bandwidth throttling you see in emergency situations where everyone tries to connect in one place at the same time.

Security is crucial when transmitting over any network, particularly one dedicated to public safety, and Mutualink puts its years of experience to great use with the WSG, connecting the device securely through the cloud using Mutualink’s tried-and-tested encryption and virtual private network (VPN) technology. From an Intel Security perspective, we approached the security of the WSG from the ground up, ensuring the integrity of data and advanced malware protection, are there, but engineered to ensure the speed and efficiency associated with public-safety networks are never compromised.

Testing, Testing

The user experience is key to the successful introduction of any new technology, even more so when it comes to wearable tech for first responders working in fast-moving, high-pressure situations. The last thing they want to worry about is a new piece of kit they have to find a pocket for.

With Mutualink we ran a field test of the WSG at Urban Shield, an annual event where global teams of SWAT, Fire, EOD, and EMS first responders compete and collaborate through a series of realistic scenarios. The event is an invaluable test bed for new tactics and technologies, and this September the WSG was put through its paces over 48 hours of rigorous SWAT exercises.

Over two test scenarios, multiple WSG devices were used to stream real-time video, heart-rate, and beacon-proximity data back to the command post. We were very happy to see that in terms of UX, the teams had no problem adding the WSG to their kit. While there were certainly important learnings we took away from the test, overall the WSG performed as intended technically, providing mission commanders a window into live situations that they hadn’t ever had before.

Internet of Public Safety Things*

The WSG is the first device to emerge as a result of the Internet of Public Safety Things* (IoPST*) initiative that Intel and Mutualink are spearheading. The long term aim is to leverage IoT technologies to seamlessly interconnect the next generation of first responders, helping save lives.

With Mutualink, we’re in the process of exploring all kinds of potential applications for the smart gateway technology in the context of the IoPST. One idea that we recently showcased at Maker Faire in New York is the integration of the smart gateway technology into infrastructure such as fire boxes or even—coming full circle back to Roger’s reference to Edison—light bulbs. One potential use is to provide a dedicated emergency Wi-Fi network in emergency situations when normal bandwidth is choked or inaccessible.

We’re expecting commercial rollout of the WSG in 2016, and in the meantime we’re continuing to work with Mutualink to iterate on the device and put it through its paces. Work is ongoing to add on-board 4G LTE connectivity which will remove the need for cell phone tethering and shrink the form factor even further. And the team is also tweaking the video compression to squeeze the data volume and speed up video streaming—a key piece of WSG functionality.

Further down the line, the modular construction and agnostic connectivity of the WSG will help make sure it’s ready for whatever software updates and hardware advances are thrown at it as we head further down the road to interconnected public safety. We’re working on making the future a much safer place.