Current research being done at the University of New Mexico has the potential to revolutionize the firefighting industry within the next few years.

Manish Bhattarai, a graduate student and researcher in the electrical and computer engineering department at UNM, has been developing new technology to better help firefighters in dangerous situations.

“I’m really passionate about using technology to address real-world problems,” Bhattarai said.



Bhattarai explained that when firefighters are inside of burning buildings the stress and anxiety can lessen their situational awareness and ability to make good, quick decisions. He said the amount of firefighters that die in service every year is part of what inspired him to work on this project.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration report, 87 firefighters died on duty in 2017.

The technology Bhattarai is developing will essentially assess the scene of the fire and increase the firefighters’ situational awareness and aid them in making decisions. This is done through several body cameras and sensors that would be placed in their fire fighting suits. The sensors will collect information, relay it to a supercomputer and reflect back through the HoloLens (a form of augmented reality goggles worn.) 

“This augmented vision shows in real time where the doors are, the windows are and the victims. It helps them know which victims to rescue first, and it helps them navigate through the fires,” Bhattarai said.

With the help of the Santa Fe Fire Department, Bhattarai went to one of their facilities to get footage and data of their training in order to create and improve his technology. He took this data set back to UNM’s Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) to run it on their supercomputers and create a model.

Last week, Bhattarai took this model to the state capitol. He was one of eight graduate students from UNM that went up to the Roundhouse to showcase their research for Graduate Education Day. Bhattarai said he talked with several legislators who had backgrounds in engineering and received a lot of support from them.

“They were all very excited and interested in taking it to the next level so they could provide necessary funding and resources for this,” Bhattarai said. 

He also spoke and presented his technology to members of the Albuquerque Fire Department, who he said were also very excited about his research and willing to collaborate. 

The support he has received does not stop there. Bhattarai said with several local news outlets publishing stories on his research and technology, firefighters and people from across the U.S. have reached out to him, wanting to know more and offer their personal expertise. 

Bhattarai has been working alongside his advisor Manel Martínez-Ramón on this technology. Their initial research and project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Currently their technology is still in the development phase, where they are working out all the details and kinks in the prototype. He said the goal is to have this new technology available for firefighters within the next year. 

Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.