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Written by: Cesar Bandera

A technology company in NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center has developed an augmented reality system that trains emergency responders how to detect chemical, radiological and biological hazards. The company, Cell Podium, is a joint venture between Martin Tuchman School of Management assistant professor of entrepreneurship Dr. Cesar Bandera and physicist-entrepreneur Dr. Peter Schmitt. The system was developed in collaboration with Dr. Mitchel Rosen, director of the Office of Public Health Practice (OPHP) at the Rutgers School of Public Health, for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

NIEHS sought to provide responders with training exercises that combine actual protective equipment and tools with simulated hazards that look and behave like real hazards. With the new HAZMAT augmented reality system, responders wearing and using real equipment are deployed to outdoor locations where they not only see these simulated hazards, but their chemical and radiological sensors also indicate realistic exposure levels. Instructors thus evaluate responders’ ability to operate real equipment, detect and classify hazards, and implement emergency response protocols under physically stressful conditions.

The augmented reality system tracks all physical assets in the training exercise, including responders and hazards over square kilometers to within a few centimeters and fractions of a second. The system incorporates a cloud-based simulator that calculates exposure levels in real time and accounts for real-world attributes including the instantaneous positions of participants and hazards, the types of hazards (e.g., a slow methane leak or a ruptured ammonia container) and wind speed and direction. The system also includes hand-held gas and radiation sensors controlled by the simulation, developed for Cell Podium by NJIT Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Honors student Michael Vaks.

The system was used in a HAZMAT training exercise conducted this summer by OPHP, and will be used in similar exercises later this year in Chicago and Cincinnati. It is now commercially available to training organizations like OPHP, and to industries that conduct their own internal HAZMAT training such as utility companies.