Skip to main content
Move the World.
heads up display

Lead Image Courtesy of Qwake Technologies

Firefighters often go into burning buildings literally not knowing what's ahead of them — the heavy smoke from a fire can make it impossible to see more than a few inches in front of their facemasks.

To combat the issue, they can crawl along the ground where the smoke isn't as thick or use their hands to feel their way along walls, but that can slow their ability to put out a fire or rescue victims.

Thermal imaging cameras are a better solution as they can give a firefighter an idea of what's around them. However, most of those devices are handheld, which means firefighters using them don't have both hands available to actually fight the fire.

There's also going to be smoke between the firefighter's eyes and the screen, which could make it hard to see, and because they're looking down, the firefighter's reactions could be delayed.

Now, there's another option: a heads up display that projects data from a thermal imaging camera right in front of a firefighter's face.

C-THRU Heads Up Display

While exploring some active volcanic craters (as one does), entrepreneur Sam Cossman found himself essentially hiking blind through the smoke and steam. He wondered if there was some kind of device that would make it possible to see through haze.

Soon, the C-THRU Visual Communication platform was born.

The heads up display consists of a transparent piece of glass that sits inside a firefighter's mask, right in front of one eye.

Outside the mask is a thermal camera that delivers a live feed to an AI — the device's "brain." The algorithm detects the edges of shapes in the camera's view and outlines them in neon green.

Those outlines are then fed to the in-mask display, letting the firefighter see the ghostly green silhouettes of the objects in front of them — even in areas with heavy smoke.

The information from the system also feeds into a tablet-based application, which a commander outside of the burning area could use to coordinate the response for an entire crew of firefighters.

Augmented Reality for Firefighters

Qwake has already worked with several fire departments to see how its heads up display would perform in real-world scenarios, and the response has been incredibly positive.

"C-THRU is one of the first technologies I've seen that I think could literally change the game for us," Marty McCormack, chief of the Boston Fire Department, told Forbes.

"The trial was a success as our guys immediately saw the value in being able to navigate, communicate, and coordinate visually," he added.

In June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded Qwake a $1.4 million contract to work toward commercializing C-THRU.

The company has yet to announce a release date for the augmented reality device, but it is accepting reservations for it on its website alongside a note that more details can be expected in "early 2021."

As for the price, that, too, is unknown, but in 2018, Cossman told CBS he expected the heads up display to cost less than the two-way radios firefighters currently use, and those run between $4,000 and $6,000.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Robotics
Firefighting Robot Helps Battle Blaze in Los Angeles
Firefighting Robot
Robotics
Firefighting Robot Helps Battle Blaze in Los Angeles
The U.S.’s first firefighting robot helped keep LAFD firefighters safe while they battled a blaze in downtown Los Angeles.

The U.S.’s first firefighting robot helped keep LAFD firefighters safe while they battled a blaze in downtown Los Angeles.

Wildfires
Predator Drones Are Using AI to Create Faster Fire Maps
fire maps
Wildfires
Predator Drones Are Using AI to Create Faster Fire Maps
The National Guard has used drones to create forest fire maps since 2017. New AI upgrades could make the maps in minutes, not hours.

The National Guard has used drones to create forest fire maps since 2017. New AI upgrades could make the maps in minutes, not hours.

Change-Makers
This Big Wave Surfer Is Changing How We Fight Wildfires
This Big Wave Surfer Is Changing How We Fight Wildfires
Change-Makers
This Big Wave Surfer Is Changing How We Fight Wildfires
Fire retardant spray contains toxins that are harmful to the environment and first responders, but Jeff Denholm is looking to change that.

Fire retardant spray contains toxins that are harmful to the environment and first responders, but Jeff Denholm is looking to change that.

The Future Explored
Mojo Vision Wants to Give Our Eyes Superpowers
augmented reality contact lenses
The Future Explored
Mojo Vision Wants to Give Our Eyes Superpowers
AR contact lenses will project the digital world into our retinas.

AR contact lenses will project the digital world into our retinas.

Disaster Response
Starlink Satellites Bring Internet to Wildfire-Ravaged State
Starlink satellites
Disaster Response
Starlink Satellites Bring Internet to Wildfire-Ravaged State
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are providing residents and emergency responders affected by Washington wildfires with access to reliable internet.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are providing residents and emergency responders affected by Washington wildfires with access to reliable internet.

AR
Military Dogs May Soon Sport AR Goggles in Enemy Territory
military dogs
AR
Military Dogs May Soon Sport AR Goggles in Enemy Territory
Military dogs will don augmented reality goggles to test their ability to keep soldiers safe by allowing them to direct the dogs from afar.

Military dogs will don augmented reality goggles to test their ability to keep soldiers safe by allowing them to direct the dogs from afar.

Medical Innovations
AI Helps Scientists Discover Powerful New Antibiotic
new antibiotic
Medical Innovations
AI Helps Scientists Discover Powerful New Antibiotic
Using a computer model powered by artificial intelligence, researchers at MIT have identified several promising candidates for powerful new antibiotics.

Using a computer model powered by artificial intelligence, researchers at MIT have identified several promising candidates for powerful new antibiotics.