Traveling Coding Competition Aims To Fill Technology Gap For First Responders

Oct 29, 2019

For first responders, communication is key to saving lives, but technology for these professionals has lagged behind traditional consumer products. A traveling codeathon coming to Carnegie Mellon University this weekend aims to encourage the development of apps for firefighters, EMTs and other public safety personnel.

Tech to Protect participants will tackle one of ten challenges; options include making a program that determines the safest way to extract car crash passengers and creating a software that detects image tampering. 

Bill Schrier is a senior advisor with the First Responder Network Authority, an independent arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce responsible for a public safety broadband network; he said many of the technology needs of first responders aren't being met.

"Think about an emergency medical technician, they need both their hands free," Schrier said. "If there could be a voice assistant for [them], it would allow them to do their job better rather than having to hold a radio or smartphone."

A physiological monitoring system that would signal to first responders when they need to take a break would also be helpful, said Schrier. 

These technologies could build upon existing commercial products, such as smart speakers and Fitbits. 

"It used to be that first responder tech was always ahead, but the advent of the smartphone has caused an explosion of technology for consumers and businesses," Schrier said. "What's happened is the money is floated to develop consumer and business technology rather than first responder technology."

Tech to Protect is hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST’s Craig Connelly, the program’s prize competition and challenge specialist, said the hope is that apps and technology created during the competition can one day be deployed in the field.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to start at this very nascent stage and build and develop and put stuff together in a lower pressure situation," Connelly said. "Before saying, 'Hey, my app or my software is completely ready for somebody to use in an emergency situation.'"

Cash prizes will be awarded to the winning teams, and attendees with any level of coding experience can participate.