FRONTLINE GLOVES

What is it?
A pair of networked gloves that allow two firefighters to use hand gestures to communicate with each other in a firefighting situation.

Who is it for?
Firemen working in teams of two.

Why is it valuable?
Typically firemen need to operate as a tightly knit unit in a firefighting situation. Constant communication with one another and rapid assessment of the changing environment is key to their safety and effectiveness. The conditions can be extreme, with hazardous objects in their path, or with smoke so thick that visibility is too low to scope the size of the space they are operating in.

The Frontline Gloves enable firemen to quickly scope a zero-visibility space by means of direct visual feedback about obstacles and clearances. The gloves allow them to send instructions to the teammate by means of simple hand gestures. This reduces the need for spoken communication, saving the firemen precious air that would be used up in talking, and overcomes challenges of radio such as cross-talk.

How does it work?
Each glove contains custom-made electronics and sensors that allows communication between them via a wireless protocol. The glowing of ultra-bright LEDs built into the glove indicate specific instructions.

What were your key learnings?
Tangible user interfaces have vast potential to address challenges faced by small teams of rescue workers, such as firemen and scuba divers. Screen-based interfaces demand a high degree of attention to operate, often challenging in the conditions these users find themselves in. A powerful answer is replacing screen driven-driven interaction with natural and gestural interaction.

Designing solutions for niche user contexts like this one demands thorough user research and prototype iteration. This was intrinsic to the design process adopted in the project. We interviewed researchers in the field of wearable computing for firefighting at the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany. This helped validate and refine our core assumptions about both the context of use and the design of the product a good deal.