Frontline Gloves

Enhancing navigation and communication for two man firefighting teams

Frontline Gloves are a pair of networked gloves that allow two fire-fighters to use hand gestures to communicate with each other in a fire-fighting situation.


Typically firemen need to operate as a tightly knit unit in a firefighting situation. Constant communication with one another and rapid assessment of the changing environment is key to their safety and effectiveness. The conditions can be extreme, with hazardous objects in their path, or with smoke so thick that visibility is too low to scope the size of the space they are operating in. The Frontline Gloves enable firemen to quickly scope a zero-visibility space by means of direct visual feedback about obstacles and clearances. The gloves allow them to send instructions to the teammate by means of simple hand gestures. This reduces the need for spoken communication, saving the firemen precious air that would be used up in talking, and overcomes challenges of radio such as cross-talk.

How it works

Each glove contains custom-made electronics based on the ATMega chip. It contains a sonar sensor which can detect distance in a low visibility environment and ultra-bright LEDs to display that information. The glove also contains bend sensors in the fingers which allows the wearer to make physical gestures, which send signals via the a wireless XBee module to the other glove.

The focus on this course was to learn the Arduino platform and test the potential of making real physical prototypes of your design concepts, and not just imaging hypothetical interactions.

Key Learnings

Tangible user interfaces have vast potential to address challenges faced by small teams of rescue workers, such as firemen and scuba divers. Screen-based interfaces demand a high degree of attention to operate, often challenging in the conditions these users find themselves in. A powerful answer is replacing screen-driven interaction with natural and gestural interaction. Designing solutions for niche user contexts like this one demands thorough user research and prototype iteration. This was intrinsic to the design process adopted in the project. We interviewed researchers in the field of wearable computing for firefighting at the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany. This helped validate and refine our core assumptions about both the context of use and the design of the product a good deal.

Work in Progress Photos

Tangible User Interfaces course @ CIID
4 weeks
Heather Martin, Vinay Venkatraman, David Mellis, Alex Wiethoff, Durrell Bishop, Christopher Scales, David Cuartielles
Kevin Cannon & Ashwin Rajan
Concept generation, electronics prototyping & Arduino programming
initial sketch
Early sketch of possible design
Testing the sensor connected to an Arduino
at a gym
Circuit and components soldering to a prototyping board.
On the left, a distance display, and right the message lights
The different gestures you can make, and the message it sends to the other glove
The final prototype.

Early testing of the bend sensors hooked up to the Arduino.

Early testing the sonar sensor setup.