DHS Explores Wearable Technology for First Responders

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun accepting proposals for the second round in its federally focused technology "accelerator," in search of next-generation wearable devices that can be adapted for first responders.

After the success of the pilot EMERGE program, DHS again turned to startups and small business to fuel federal government research and development, reported FCW. This time the agency's Science and Technology Directorate has teamed up with the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) and TechNexus, a venture group based in Chicago, to bring wearable technology to first responders.

The agency hopes that, with the help of wearable devices, today's firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians will be able to minimize equipment requirements and concentrate on effective response efforts.

"This forward thinking partnership stems from the need to better protect our first responders by identifying new cutting-edge technologies," said TechNexus CEO Terry Howerton. "We are excited to build upon the successes of last year and continue our partnership with CIT, and DHS S&T."

EMERGE-2016 accepts product designs that incorporate wearable functionality, including physiological sensors, integrated voice and data communications, and health support, such as hydration. Companies can meet with first responders, investors and potential technology partners directly to showcase products.

Some estimates value the wearable market at $1 trillion over the next few years, according to NextGov. If it can tap into this commercial market, DHS "should be able to get cutting-edge technology into the field faster and at much lower cost" than if it tries to develop it in house, according to CIT.

Wearable products might include "physiological sensors, high-performance materials, health support such as hydration, communications capabilities, situational awareness" and other features. They might need to operate in low-visibility and extreme temperature conditions, according to NextGov. Products must not melt or shatter, and should be lightweight, as first responders are often carrying other equipment.

"The additional benefits to startups are a first-rate education in business development from mentors around the business world, early market validation, test and evaluation opportunities, and a path to introduce their technologies to a variety of markets, including government sector partners," DHS said.

DHS has stepped up its attempts to connect with commercial groups that specialize in wearable products, FCW reported. In July, the government organization held an Industry Day event focused on unmanned aircraft systems, offering a number of hypothetical scenarios that tech companies could offer solutions for, including embedding a panel in the forearm sleeve of a border patrol uniform for agents to control drones.

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