WPI Putting Lifesaving Technology to the Test

This spring, WPI researchers conducted the first off-site field testing WPI’s PPL (Precision Personnel Locator) system, which uses radio frequency, signal processing, and other technologies to monitor the location and physical condition of firefighters inside a smoke-obscured building. Under the leadership of Electrical and Computer Engineering professors James Duckworth and David Cyganski, a team of WPI faculty and graduate students have been working to create a fail-safe system of mobile transmitters to be worn by firefighters, which would transmit continuous signals to receivers mounted on fire trucks stationed outside the building.

The need for an emergency personnel locator system became clear after the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage warehouse fire that took the life of six firefighters who were unable to find their way to safety. The PPL system under development at WPI will allow site commanders to pinpoint the firefighters' location in three dimensions to facilitate rescue. It also displays alternate escape routes to guide them to safety in the event that exits are blocked. The WPI system is unique in monitoring both firefighters’ exact location in three dimensions and their vital signs to signal a warning if are in life-threatening medical distress.

WPI alumnus Martin Rowe ’80, who is senior technical editor for Test & Measurement World, has followed the development of the system through laboratory testing and simulations performed in WPI campus buildings by Worcester firefighters. This spring, he observed outdoor field testing of the system and reported on the status of the project in a cover story in the May 2009 issue of TM World. Rowe, whose writings often invoke his WPI roots, also composes blues ballads for engineers. His article on WPI’s PPL research was accompanied by a blog entry on the proper pronunciation of Worcester.

May 11, 2009

  • Email a Friend
  • Bookmark this Page
  • Share this Page