In the fall of 2016 Tolentino approached Tacoma Fire Chief James Duggan. The pair talked about challenges facing the fire department. Among the issues discussed were tracking chemical spills and the “lost firefighter” problem.
Tolentino demonstrates how the digital sensor might be attached to a firefighter’s equipment. Billions of dollars in imports and exports pass through the Port of Tacoma every year. The fire department is responsible for managing incidents at the Port including chemical spills. Under current protocol fire fighters first establish a safe perimeter. Next, a team outfitted in hazmat suits moves into the “hot zone” to collect samples. Once the substance is identified fire fighters begin the process of containment and clean up. “We spend a lot of time making sure we’re positioning ourselves up wind and up land from the incident,’ said Duggan. “Keep in mind any shutdown at the Port has huge financial implications.”
Tolentino, who is on the faculty of UW Tacoma’s Institute of Technology, tasked his computer engineering students with finding another way. “What we’ve done is augment drones with a series of sensors that can identify what the material is as well as track its movement,” said Tolentino.
The project is ongoing but early tests in the classroom and Tolentino’s Intelligent Platforms & Architecture Lab (i.e. the carbon-monoxide-generating chainsaw) have been successful. Tolentino and his students have added autonomous capabilities to the drones with the goal of reducing risk while providing better data. In a real-world scenario, this information would be relayed to an incident commander in a matter of minutes. Dugan believes this technology would be useful in other locations besides the Port. “Imagine if there was a spill on the rail line or on I-5,” he said. “Remote sensing would help us identify the problem and develop a solution much quicker.”[This article is an excerpt from https://www.tacoma.uw.edu/node/47582]