The objective of our work is to get an insight of the knowledge, practices and experiences of firefighters on the first line of intervention to look for opportunities for mediating or facilitating the work by using technology. For us, the role of the user in the design process is a delicate question of ethics to be answered by building a bridge of empathy between designer and user. Motivated by this idea, we follow a participative oriented ethnographic approach by observing our users in their natural environment. We take part and closely observe their practices in field studies, looking for surprising facts and the emergence of observable patterns in the analysis of the results.
Wearables for Firefighting
The WearIT@Work project at Fraunhofer FIT is working closely with the Paris Fire Brigade on conducting a participatory design approach to bring wearable technologies to firefighters working on the first line of intervention. Firefighting constitutes a highly situated activity that heavily resorts to the implicit knowledge constructed through training and experience.
The role of firefighters change dynamically during an intervention, and decisions must deal with highly unpredictable situations. Information resources are scarce at different levels. On one side the available information could be incomplete due to the complexities of an intervention, and on the other side, processing time for this information could be limited, as the attention of the firefighters must be focused on many different tasks during an intervention.
UbiComp in Firefighting
For firefighters, ubiquitous computing has the ability to instrument the reality. The availability of sensors embedded in the environment or attached to garments provides an increasingly large amount of information to be processed. Moving, however, from the simple availability of information to a set of practices requires, more than technical resources, an appropriation process driven by the interactions between the evolution of the technology and the uses and practices that users build around these technologies.
Indoor Navigation Support
In ubiquitous computing, indoor navigation support has been mostly addressed as the technical problem of obtaining more or less precise location information. Navigation is however more than just a technical artefact. Navigation is an art or craft, a human practice constructed around technical possibilities such as indoor positioning or orientation tools, but also around cognitive capabilities of the navigators. Hence providing good, supportive navigation tools requires a deep understanding of the context in which the users require such support.
The central challenge for the WearIT@Work project lies on the implementation of systems for real-world use. Physical conditions, heavy equipment and stress are key factors to design. Assumptions about on-site conditions are almost impossible to be made, a fact that is typically missed in laboratory setups. Our goal is to create feasible systems based on current available technical possibilities and to allow firefighters themselves to develop new ways of navigation. Providing visions for technological solutions is not really difficult. However, providing valuable support based on today available technology is the real challenge.
In our vision, infrastructure should support firefighters in building shared mental models of the environment and allow them to make creative use of technology in a complex, ever-changing space. Rather than telling firefighters where to go we want to support them in creating their own paths.