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Aus invention improves firefighter safety

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An Australian radio engineer has commercialised a product that uses rural firefighting vehicles’ GPS equipment and radios to automatically report their positions. No change to the radio network is needed and the process takes less than two seconds.

“Although the State Governments have efficient private mobile networks, the problem arises because of how these assets are used,” explains Michael Norman, who has 40 years radio experience, and who developed the system over the last two years.

“Victoria’s GRN [Government Radio Network], for example, can carry up to 12,000 users. In a bushfire situation it takes around 22 seconds to make a voice call to a vehicle and get a response on its location. [Consequently] using voice calls to locate hundreds of vehicles takes [hours] - and that’s calling them just once.

“It’s very inefficient and could compromise safety.”

Norman’s technology uses the existing radio network and employs a proprietary protocol using Full Frequency Shift Keying (FFSK) and a 1.2 kbit/s transfer rate. According to Norman, a vehicle can be polled from base and return a 200 ms data packet identifying its position “in seconds”. In addition, software allows base to broadcast a position request asking for the location of a particular vehicle, with the selected vehicle automatically responding in around 90 ms, then reporting its position.

“Standard vehicle location solutions don’t function outside of metropolitan areas,” explains Norman. “{The product} plugs directly into the existing radio and computers, making it a very cost-effective solution to a very real problem. It puts viable technology into rural areas which are often marginalised in communication terms.

“It offers obvious safety advantages,” concludes Norman.

Norman has co-founded a company, South Australian firm WARPS to market the products.

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