With the next-gen Apex suit, running into a fire has never been smarter

introducing apex homeland securitys next generation first responder suit dhsst nexgen poster
With an array of sensors and different ways to connect, the next-gen Apex suit will feed first responders life-saving information, and help them stay safer, too. (Image: Modev)

Bob Griffin’s turnout gear has been into 1,700-degree fires and the Pentagon after 9/11, through anthrax scares and Hazmat situations, bled on and vomited on. People have died in its arms.

Bob Griffin’s jacket has been through everything — except the 21st century.
That’s will soon change, Griffin said, to address one simple question:

“How do we bring wearables to the first-responder community?”

On November 17, The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology division will kick off a program to develop a Next-Generation First Responder suit that incorporates wearable tech, Internet and cellular connectivity, and an array of environmental and biological sensors to better protect the firefighters, policemen, aid workers, and others who daily risk their lives for ours.

“You need data at the speed of thought. And mechanisms that can receive that data.”

Bob Griffin, the Deputy Under Secretary for the department, announced the wearable vision at an appropriate venue: the Wearables + Things conference, a two-day developer show in Washington D.C. featuring everything from Google Glass to work-out gear to magic slippers. (Under Secretary Reginald Brothers was scheduled to make the presentation before being unexpectedly called to the White House for a meeting on the developing ebola crisis.)

Griffin, himself a former fire chief, knows firsthand what it takes to run into a burning building – and it’s not always fortitude and courage.

“Sane people don’t run into buildings. I recognize that. But I need data that’s actually going to help me run into buildings,” Griffin said. “You need data at the speed of thought. And mechanisms that can receive that data.”

DHS will launch a new website on the 17th to help design the suit, part of the Apex program (projects that are designed to focus in on specific issues with heavy involvement from the end-user community). DHS hopes the suit will incorporate smartphone connectivity via Wi-Fi, mesh networking, LTE, and 4G connections; wearable tech such as head-mounted sensors and motion controls; and sensors to monitor the health of the wearer and the external situation.

It may also communicate over FirstNet, a nascent high-speed wireless network mandated by Congress to ensure safe communication for emergency workers. Signed into law on Feb. 22, 2012, FirstNet was allocated wireless spectrum similar to that the government has auctioned off to private networks in recent years — as well as up to $7 billion in funding. Neither the price tag nor timeline for Apex were yet available.

But given the push to incorporate off-the-shelf technology, it may be relatively affordable (by government standards, anyway).

“We initially worked internally within Science and Technology and then we expanded the conversation to Homeland Security,” Griffin told Digital Trends following his presentation. But following discussions with private contractors and the R&D community, the agency expanded its vision.

Homeland Security Bob Griffith
Traditional turnout gear provides protection, but not information. (Image: Modev)

“What we found from that national conversation was some really thoughtful responses about where Homeland Security was and where we need to be,” he said. “It changed our strategic vision … We’re looking to expand that with a series of specific dialogues on different areas. The first one is going to be about wearables.”

Developers at the show were clearly excited about the program, including Sean Tibbets. The owner of software-development firm CyberTimez (and one of many self-professed Glassholes), Tibbets was one of the first to approach Griffin after the speech.

“You need data at the speed of thought. And mechanisms that can receive that data.”

“My dad’s a retired fireman,” he told Digital Trends. Tibbets said he has already built one potential part of Apex, a suit with built-in moisture and temperature sensors to keep a firefighter safe. “I know if he’s sweating profusely, he’s about to be dehydrated, so we need to get water in to him, or him out.”

“That’s exactly what those guys want,” Tibbets said. “I already have it.”

Jay Miller is director of business development for Embarcadero and a wearable enthusiast, and he’s currently going through firefighter training in Montana. He too applauded the initiative.

“Despite how much we all appreciate and respect the efforts of our first responders, I don’t think we have a true appreciation until we are directly exposed to the circumstances and environments first responders are put into,” he said.

The existing PASS system provides an audible alarm when a firefighter has been immobile for 30 seconds, he noted, to allow others to locate a downed teammate.

next gen first responder jacket wearable tech
The Apex first-responder jacket (Image: Jeremy Kaplan)

“If you had a heads-up display projected into your facemask identifying the location (military units train with this already) and potential condition of a teammate (heart rate, BP, temperature, etc.) our ability to quickly locate and provide the appropriate rescue technique would be greatly enhanced,” he told Digital Trends. And current indicators of oxygen levels in tanks is weak; modern tech could offer far more accurate data.

“Wearables represent a truly viable opportunity to increase the safety and effectiveness of our first responders,” he said.

DHS will ultimately partner with cloud-platform IdeaScale on the website, Griffin said. “It’s a better way to crowdsource these ideas.” But it’s through the private sector, through partnerships with developers made at events like Wearables + Things, that the real breakthroughs will come.

“We’re trying to change how we think about research and development, to see how we can improve homeland security,” Griffin explained.

Product Review

Galaxy Watch Active is the right size, no matter how big or small your wrist is

Launched among a massive array of other new products, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active could easily have been missed at Galaxy Unpacked 2019 -- which would be unfortunate. This is a sensibly designed, correctly sized smartwatch suitable for…
Mobile

Need speed? Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon X55, the world’s fastest 5G modem

Qualcomm is preparing for an even faster future: The silicon giant just unveiled a second generation 5G modem for smartphones, promising blistering download speeds as high as 7Gbps.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Mobile

Smartwatch sales soared in 2018, with Apple leading the charge

The NPD Group, a market research organization, has reported smartwatch sales soared in 2018. Apple is leading the charge, but it's clear there's still room in the market for competitors, as Samsung and Fitbit also did well.
Mobile

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Wearables

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Deals

Amazon slashes prices on Fitbit Versa smartwatches for Presidents’ Day

Amazon is offering a solid $30 discount on this great fitness tracking smartwatch right now. So if you're looking for a wearable that can help you track steps, sleep, and activity, now is a great time to pick one up for less.
Deals

This discounted smartwatch is a cheap Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa alternative

The Amazfit Bip isn't an Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa, but at the discounted price of $67, it's a very affordable alternative packed with useful features. With built-in GPS and 30-day battery life, this cheap smartwatch is a great option to…
Deals

Amazon cuts prices on the Apple Watch Series 3 for Presidents’ Day

The Apple Watch Series 3 is seeing the same price cut we saw during the Amazon sale just last week. So if you're hoping to pick up an Apple Watch for less than $250, this $50 discount from Amazon can make that happen for you.
Deals

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for February 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.