With more programming work, an even smarter system could tell a firefighter a faster and safer way to get out. If multiple MINTs were linked up to a squad along with other basic sensors, the network could provide all-around situational awareness: where all the firefighters in a burning building are scattered, the condition of the building where others are, the ambient temperatures around each unit, among other important pieces of information. “We’re discovering that there are so many things that you can do,” Kelly says.
For possible application in the mining industry, MINT went through a successful National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) demonstration in an underground mine more than a year ago.
But mines are hostile places—for people and communication signals. Numerous agencies and researchers are studying how to get wireless signals, like those transmitted by a MINT unit, out of underground tunnels if an emergency occurs. They have so far found that the tunnels themselves can act as waveguides for cell phone radio frequencies. Other radio frequencies offer better options in the event of an emergency: at lower frequencies, radio signals can propagate through conductive materials like cables, pipes, power lines and wires. At the lowest frequencies, NIOSH says, radio signals can penetrate earth.
The agency says a 2006 law mandated that coalmines install wireless communications and electronic tracking systems underground, which positioning systems could use to broadcast the whereabouts of stranded miners.
“These mines have invested in their communication infrastructure,” Kelly says. “If you have a way to locate yourself—using MINT or some other location-positioning method—then the communications structure will already be there.”
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Copyright 2012 Txchnologist, a digital magazine presented by GE that explores the wider world of science, technology and innovation. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.