First responders face challenging conditions while often carrying heavy and outdated equipment. Wearable technology is on the rise, estimated at a $10 billion dollar commercial market, and advances are happening in the health and fitness area every day. The first responder community stands to benefit greatly from integrating some of this otherwise heavy and outdated equipment into wearable technology, improving both upon efficiencies and responsiveness as well as continuing to prioritize their own safety on the frontlines of often dangerous situations. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) launched its first business accelerator program, EMERGE in 2015, seeking to identify and fast track the development of innovative wearable technology adaptable for first responders.
S&T worked with the Center for Innovation Technology and business accelerators TechNexus and Tech Wildcatters, educating the investment, entrepreneurial, and startup communities on these specific homeland security needs.
“Instead of developing our own accelerator, we worked with three organizations that do this for a living and leveraged their existing networks of over a hundred accelerators in 145 different cities around the world,” said S&T Program Manager for EMERGE D’Arcy Morgan. “We were looking for promising wearable technology that already had a commercial market. The idea was that technology could be used by first responders to make their jobs a lot easier.”
EMERGE sought commercial technology that could be adapted to fire, police, and emergency personnel and more than 100 startups applied to be part of the pilot, explained Morgan, a former first responder himself. Of those 100, 25 were selected, and 18 of those showcased their technology prototypes to the investor community, industry, and first responders at the EMERGE Demonstration Day in San Francisco in September 2015.
The event featured innovative technologies such as mouth guards that use bone conduction technology for communication, by which sound is conducted to the inner ear through the bones of the skull. Other devices included technology designed for sensory impaired users that can help first responders locate people in challenging environments, a triage language translator for patients to communicate with first responders, and protective gloves with embedded equipment controls to remotely operate devices.
The startups that graduated from the EMERGE pilot are seeing more ways to develop their technology to meet first responder’s needs, interest from investors, markets to validate their technology, and increased sales. Four of the startups now have first responder related products commercially available, and users can download an app or buy products online. Seven of the startups have promising technologies with a dual use or focus on another market and are starting to see increases in their revenue.
S&T announced a second EMERGE on wearable technology for first responders in August 2016, and have worked with more than 200 accelerators, incubators, and university partners to evaluate more than 250 startups. Ultimately, 10 startups were selected to be part of EMERGE 2016: Wearable Technology.
S&T held an interactive event in October 2016 with the EMERGE team, startups, first responders, and members of the Homeland Security Enterprise. Over the course of two days, 19 National Capital Region police, fire, rescue, county emergency management departments, and national and industry organizations worked side-by-side with the EMERGE startups and provided feedback on how the commercial technology is applicable and could be adapted for first responders’ use. Many of the first responders offered to pilot or test and evaluate the technologies.
S&T continues to look for creative ways to stimulate the need for better technology for first responders and others in the Homeland Security Enterprise and EMERGE is one of those ways.