AI Smart Helmet Helps Firefighters Find Victims

By Matt Williams -

The National Robotarium has teamed up with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to create an AI-powered smart helmet that helps firefighters better locate victims in smoke-filled rooms.

Pioneering new helmet technology which could help firefighters quickly map their surroundings, navigate hazardous environments and efficiently locate fire-scene victims is being developed by researchers at the National Robotarium.

Combining feeds from thermal cameras, radar and inertial sensors mounted on a standard-issue firefighting helmet, the technology uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence to provide wearers with real-time information that can help detect victims, recognise teammates and provide an accurate understanding of their own location.

Developmental field trials of the new technology have been conducted in partnership with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service personnel at its £10.5million training facility in Newbridge, Edinburgh. It’s hoped that the first-of-its-kind technology could support firefighters and scene commanders to more safely navigate adverse or low-visibility conditions such as smoke-filled fire scenes and reduce the time it takes to rescue victims.

Developed by researchers at the National Robotarium, a world-leading centre for robotics and artificial intelligence hosted by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, the project has received funding from the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) and the Scottish Funding Council’s SFC Saltire scheme, as well as funding from the University of Edinburgh.

The National Robotarium is part of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative, supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government. The initiative aims to turn Edinburgh into the data capital of Europe and is part of the wider £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal.


Dr Chris Lu, Lecturer in Cyber-Physical Systems in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh who is leading the project, said:

“Firefighters often operate in environments with very low or no visibility due to the vast amount of smoke released from a fire. This can make detecting the location of potential victims and the whereabouts of firefighters very challenging in situations that are often extremely time-sensitive.

“This new technology has the potential to support on-the-ground firefighters and scene commanders to make crucial in-the-moment decisions that can enhance search rescue efficiency, ensure safer collaboration between teammates and, most importantly, improve outcomes for potential victims of fire scenes.

“Our entire sensor rig weighs less than a kilogram and is composed of affordable, off-the-shelf components that can be easily retrofitted to existing standard-issue firefighting helmets. This means it has the potential to be an incredibly efficient and accessible resource to fire and rescue teams in Scotland, the UK and beyond once fully developed. 

“We are continuing to expand the capabilities of the technology with the support of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, to whom we are enormously grateful. Our next ambition is to give the helmet the ability to generate 3D maps and an embedded display, which will provide the wearer with even more spatial awareness. We are actively looking to engage with industry partners to help make this next step a reality.”

Stewart Miller CEO of National Robotarium at Heriot Watt University
Stewart Miller CEO of National Robotarium at Heriot Watt University. Colin Hattersley Photography – www.colinhattersley.com

Stewart Miller is CEO of the National Robotarium. Speaking at the opening of the new purpose-built facility today [28th September], he said:

“The development of a smart fire fighting helmet that has the potential to support firefighters and help save lives is an excellent example of the pedigree of research coming from the National Robotarium’s two partner universities, each amongst the most prestigious in Scotland.

“As we open the doors of our dedicated, state-of-the-art facility today, we are able to showcase Scotland and the UK’s role at the forefront of global developments in AI and robotics, and the role of the National Robotarium in championing and developing solutions to some of society and industry’s biggest challenges.”

Bryan Todd, Group Commander in Training, Safety & Assurance at Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said:

“We are proud that our staff at our Newbridge Training Centre have been able to support with the trialling of this technology. Safety, Teamwork and Innovation are three of our core values as a service and we always welcome opportunities to work in partnership with higher education organisations and the fantastic work they do in exploring ideas to improve community and firefighter safety.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland, David Duguid, said:

“It’s great to see the pioneering minds of the National Robotarium working with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service on developing this life-saving kit.  Anything our world-leading scientists can do to keep them safe and ensure people are saved as quickly as possible is hugely welcome.

“We are proud to be backing the National Robotarium with £21 million UK Government funding – part of a more than £2 billion investment to level up communities across Scotland.”

Scottish Government Business Minister, Ivan McKee, said:

“I congratulate researchers at the National Robotarium for their partnership with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to design innovative new smart helmet technology. This has the potential to improve firefighters’ safety as they enter hazardous environments and save lives.

“Robotics and artificial intelligence have the capacity to transform society and the wider economy, that is why the Scottish Government is investing £1.4 million to support the National Robotarium through the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

“The Scottish Government seeks to encourage innovation like this as part of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation and our forthcoming Innovation Strategy.”

Professor Jane Hillston, Head of School of Informatics, the University of Edinburgh, said: 

“Dr Lu’s strong partnership with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service demonstrates how state-of-the-art research in AI can be used to develop innovative and practical solutions to important problems. This is an excellent example of the use of AI for social good.”

SFRS and research team from National Robotarium Chris Watt Photgraphy_159
Picture – Chris Watt Photography – 07887554193 – info@chriswatt.com – www.chriswatt.com

The announcement of the groundbreaking research project comes as the National Robotarium officially opens the doors to its new state-of-art £22.4 million facility in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Uniting experts from two of Edinburgh’s most successful universities in the fields of technology and innovation, the world-leading centre will see academics from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh create innovative solutions to global challenges using Heriot-Watt’s strengths in robotics for hazardous environments, manufacturing, healthcare, and human-robot interaction and the University of Edinburgh’s expertise in autonomous systems for space, construction, autonomous vehicles, disaster response and humanoid robotics.

Based at Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh campus, the National Robotarium houses extensive world-class facilities for researchers and businesses. Key areas of research application include hazardous environments, offshore energy, manufacturing, healthcare, human-robot interaction, assisted living and agritech.

The facility provides a catalyst for entrepreneurship, bringing together academics and global companies, and is expected to deliver sustainable economic benefit to Edinburgh, the UK and beyond. Among the first facility is Touchlab, a deep tech company developing compliant ‘e-skin’ sensor technology that gives machines a sense of touch.


Find out more about the National Robotarium and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

Also, stay up to date with the most recent machine vision and image processing news right here on MVPro Media.

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