While computers pervade our everyday lives rapidly, there are, to this day, workplaces where people operate with almost no IT support. Firefighters on the frontline who work in buildings full of smoke and heat do their dangerous job without IT that has, however, the potential to support them in communication, navigation or the monitoring of the situation. Currently, the quest for real-time, networked information drives firefighters and computer engineers alike and current computer science research projects push the development of computing systems for safety-critical domains.
For firefighters and in general, computing systems do not only have the potential to solve specific problems or prevent tragic accidents that might originally drive designers’ efforts. Computing systems furthermore are situated in existing configurations, they interact with our patterns of doing, thinking and feeling. Consequently, technology designers have to acknowledge that the systems they are about to build may not solely do good to firefighters’ work. In order to design systems for frontline firefighters that provide meaningful support, designers will need to understand thoroughly the interaction of these systems with existing firefighting practice that has been developed since ancient Rome.
My research in the landmarke and WearIT@Work projects explores the domain of frontline firefighting, its overall configuration and interaction with novel computing systems. The research is intended as a means to support technology designers in reflecting and discussing with practitioners the changes for the practice that new computing systems produce.
The landmarke project has been selected as one of Germany’s most innovative research projects in 2012 as part of the “Germany—Land of Ideas” initiative.