MIT's prototype sensor system lets first responders create digital maps of the affected area, enabling others to get a more detailed and accurate description.

Researchers at MIT have developed a prototype sensor system that would let first responders in disaster zones create digital maps so those not present could get a detailed description of the area. The wearable system automatically creates a map of the environment using a laser rangefinder, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and a camera. The gyroscopes could infer when the rangefinder was tilted and the accelerometers provided some information about the wearer’s velocity and changes in altitude.

Every few meters, the camera takes a snapshot of its surroundings, and software extracts hundreds of visual features from the image. Also connected to the sensor system was a handheld pushbutton device that the wearer could use to annotate the map, identifying particular locations as points of interest. The researchers envision that emergency responders could use a similar system to add voice or text tags to the map to indicate things like structural damage or a toxic spill.

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