We connected by Zoom according to current fashion, and José Antonio Rodríguez and Ana Belén Carballo, Professor and researcher and coordinator of the VALFIS research group, and Belén Carballo, research doctor for IBIOMED and specialist in thermal stress. They are very excited about the European project that just began last May, SixthSense.
SixthSense has as purpose “Save the lives of those in charge of saving lives”, as stated in the press release he sent to Tecnalia, project coordinator, a few weeks ago. It's an ambitious project, not only to start in the midst of the global crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic but because it intends to create a device with tactile biofeedback tactile that will change the paradigm of security in emergencies.
The SixthSense project will be the 'sixth sense' that an operation needs to take care of the danger to which it is exposed. The emergency department will carry an intelligent sensor that will monitor your state of health in extreme environments in real time by tactile biofeedback This intelligent sensor will allow at all times to detect and anticipate potentially dangerous situations to the health of the first responder.
Specifically, the project will last for 36 months for firefighters and y mountain rescuers. This new smart device aims to increase the effectiveness of the equipment and operational security.
We spoke with representatives of 21 consortium partners the University of Leonone of the XNUMX consortium partners . Ana Belén and José Antonio are the researchers verifying that this developing technology correctly measures the necessary physiological variables in the emergency operation team.
When did you start researching the health of emergency teams?
Since 2005 we are working in this line of research on the various factors that affect the health of forest firefighters. As a result of our various publications we made, technology companies contacted us to be part of this project. Horizon 2020 . Businesses need to know if their devices are working properly. To do this, we will subject firefighters and mountain rescuers to various tests. So to some extent it is related to what we have been doing so far.
The novelty of the project is the type of tactile feedback that the smart sensor offers.
Besides testing devices, you will also jointly create the star device that is the final object of the project. How will you do it?
We will do it in three different phases: The first phase will be dedicated to verifying that the technological development that companies have already done, actually works. Once this is done, we will discard what does not serve us and we will integrate in a single device all the valid sensors for later analysis in the laboratory. In the second phase, we will try to develop new smart sensors with the observed suggestions that would be interesting to integrate into the smart sensor.
We will dedicate the last and third phase to study, but outside the laboratory. The tests will be carried out through field work: both in simulations we create and real cases such as a prescribed burn or a fire. In this last phase, we hope to already have predictive models of the physiological behavior of the emergency department.
What added value does this project have?
The novelty of the project is the type of tactile biofeedback feedback that the intelligent sensor offers. The vast majority of current technological devices are either visual or hearing-oriented. However, it has been found that in stressful situations emergency personnel do not respond to these stimuli.
What will the smart sensor will be like? And how will you notify the personnel?
It will unify all the sensors that we have verified as valid in the first two phases, and integrate them into a single device. In addition, we seek to make it ergonomic, comfortable, reliable, have it measure the key physiological parameters in two environments: extreme and safe, and have it provide relevant information about health and geo-location.
Thanks to this intelligent device, the emergency operation team will receive the information first, then it will reach the team commander and the control center. These three different actors will know their position and their physiological state at all times.
The idea we have is for the subject to receive the alert message at a tactile level, for example, an electric shock.
We know that creating this smart device is ambitious, but we are very aware that when emergency personnel are in stressful situations they have a very high concentration, which often makes them forget the risk they are exposing themselves to.
We seek to make the device ergonomic, comfortable, reliable, have it measure the key physiological parameters in two environments: extreme and safe, and have it provide relevant information about the health and geo-location of the emergency department.
What kind of parameters will the device measure?
We already have several provisions and others that we would like to include, but we do not know if the technology will allow it. In general, we will want to see the level of dehydration through sweat, see how the heart rate is, analyze the level of lactate, analyze cortisol to relate it to the level of stress and fatigue, among others.
Why have you focused on these two groups of emergency professionals?
We looked for two opposite thermal environments. Forest firefighters at very high temperatures and mountain rescuers at very low temperatures.
The physiological effort that women exert while extinguishing forest fires is the same as that performed by men, despite physical differences found between sexes.
Will you value measuring the behavior of this series of parameters, for example heat stress, according to the sex of the operational team member?
We would like to and we will try, although it is not one of the main objectives of the project. What we do know is that the behavior between women and men is not the same in a stressful situation.
The effort that women make during the extinction of forest fires is the same as that performed by a male firefighter, despite the fact that his physical condition is less than that of the man. This, if we could verify it with a sufficient N, would open a very wide range to establish specific training programs.
However, the problem we are facing is twofold: Women are very underrepresented in the field of emergencies, and women additionally are less available to participate in tests, whether due to family reconciliation or self-restraint. Often they feel more embarrassed to take the tests.
Even though it is not one of the main objectives of the project and the barriers that we have discussed in achieving a sufficient N to reach reliable conclusions, we will not give up. It is a necessary path both socially and scientifically, since it opens a still very new field that must be explored.
What measures will you adopt in the event that the effects of COVID19 are aggravated?
We will adapt as the virus evolves. For now, we have sent a document to Ethics Committee of the University of León with the protocols that we would like to carry out, and we hope to obtain their approval. Today, we cannot do anything since the laboratory is closed.
In principle in October we should already have developed the first prototype to be able to 'play' with the sensor in the laboratory. Therefore, depending on the situation, we will have to modify the tools used to correctly validate the system.
The methodology could be adopted and, for instance, we would use an ozone lamp to disinfect the laboratory well every time the emergency department is tested, each subject would use their own cables, and we would not analyze the subject's gases because it could be an important source of contagion. These would be some of the measures that we could take.
It should be noted that we are very aware of the uncertainty we face. Therefore, a few months ago we already sent to the European Commission a COVID 19 package of measures to mitigate its effects on the project.