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Watch Tech for Tracking Firefighters Tested in Building (NASA JPL Video)  

What are Magnetoquasistatic (MQS) fields?

MQS fields are magnetic fields with very slow temporal variations that appear static and can penetrate through most natural materials just like the Earth’s magnetic field. As a result, they can be used in a broad array of sensor applications.

What are some examples of how MQS fields are currently used?

MQS fields can be beneficial in applications where information or sensing is needed when a clear line-of-sight (LoS) is not available. This includes position sensing in buildings or homes—like with POINTER—as well as in wireless communications and power transfer technologies currently being used to power smart phones in similar environments.

How does POINTER’s MQS positioning differ from other responder tracking technologies?

Several tracking technologies currently exist that use GPS, acoustic sensors, radar ranging, ultra-wideband ranging, inertial sensing or vision techniques. However, there are drawbacks, including: high error rates due to multi-path or signal bouncing in LoS-denied environments; inability to penetrate into buildings and underground; a drift in position results that increases quickly over time or distance traveled; or requirements for a large network of built-in infrastructure in order to operate. 

These drawbacks severely limit their use in life-or-death first responder applications. By using MQS fields, POINTER can be quickly deployed and can track and locate first responders in homes, warehouses and low-rise buildings within centimeters of accuracy.

So, how does POINTER work?

MQS fields can be used for short- or long-range position sensing in LoS-denied environments. The POINTER system consists of three parts that each play a unique role in pinpointing responders’ exact locations:

  • POINTER transmitters based at the incident scene generate MQS fields and use complex sensors and algorithms to solve for position and orientation in 3D space (x, y, z axis). This allows command to pinpoint responders’ location precisely, including which floor a team member is located on and whether they are in motion, standing or lying down.
  • As they respond to incidents, responders physically wear a receiver that detects the MQS fields and sends data back to command. This receiver is currently the size of a cell phone and will continue to be scaled down (and potentially incorporated into existing response technologies) as POINTER approaches commercialization in 2022.
  • Finally, a base station laptop houses a visual component that gives incident command a real-time view of responders’ locations as they make their way through an incident scene. Command can watch progress and is alerted if a team member may need rapid intervention.




Last Updated: 01/10/2022
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