Visions through the Halo – the new helmet-mounted TIC

Published:  03 June, 2015

F&R Q2 TASTER: As news breaks out about a new helmet-mounted tic Ann-Marie knegt speaks to halo thermal imaging's James Brooks about how the tool will enhance fire operations.

Firefighting operations are about to change. The developers at Halo Thermal Imaging at Durham Tees Valley Airport in the north of the UK have come up with a product that is set to greatly improve operations.

Head of Innovation at Halo Thermal Imaging (formerly K2) James Brooks lives and breathes thermal imaging cameras. His passion for developing the latest TIC is obvious in how he talks and visualises his new product, the Halo; the worlds smallest, most lightweight thermal imaging camera. It is so light in fact that it is mounted on a firefighting helmet with a torch clip, providing the user with hands-free operation and constant vision.

James firmly believes that this new product will be a game changer for the fire industry.

‘Every piece of technology in this camera is patented. This will be the future of firefighting,’ he commented.

In the past, Halo has produced thermal imaging cameras for the White House, NASA, and Ferrari Formula 1 as well as being an established supplier of thermal imaging cameras for firefighting and search and rescue operations. Halo is one of the few thermal imaging camera manufacturers that builds its own internal engine.

It was at the Airport Fire Officers Conference held in Dublin in January 2015 that a thermal imaging manufacturer predicted that interest would return towards helmet-mounted thermal imaging camera technology. It turns out that this manufacturer was right. However, the Halo is more than just 'interest', said James.

'Halo is a viable product that has been received to wide acclaim by the firefighters all over the world who have tested it. With the two most prolific brigades being Northern Ireland FRS and Rome FRS in Italy. Historically helmet-mounted and helmet-integrated thermal imaging cameras have been regarded as less user friendly than hand-held or hands-free cameras, but this perception is set to change.

‘There is nothing like the Halo,’ said James Brooks, who explained that this little TIC only measures 60mm x 70 mm x 125 mm, and only weighs 390 grammes. 

‘These are the type of dimensions and weight that really provide the wearer flexibility and comfort without compromising operational performance. Most hand-held TICS on the market weigh 1-1.5 kg. However, while conventional cameras need to be held up with one arm, the Halo provides hands-free operation.'

Simplicity is key

James explained that simplicity was one of the key elements of the design of the Halo, and that users should be thinking about what they have to do as their job and not what the equipment was doing.

‘The equipment becomes part of what they are doing, and it should be unobtrusive, because the firefighter’s job is to get a casualty out.

‘All we are doing with this equipment is giving firefighters their eyes back without them having to think about it. With hand-held cameras, the brain is having to tell the arm to hold the TIC up, and then it is having to tell the hand where it is moving. This means that one part of the brain is already occupied.'

James explained that that Halo Thermal Imaging also wanted to make sure that the TIC was easy to pass around between the team members. Currently the Halo has been configured to be attached to all firefighting helmets utilising a simple torch-mount adaptor.

Halo Thermal Imaging has built and designed the Halo’s engine with a lens especially designed for close range work required for firefighting. It features a 6.3cm high-definition display with snapshot function that enables image freezing for situational assessment.

James added that due to the superior dynamic range the Halo can clearly detect casualties against a fire as well as in other scenarios such as search and rescue, where the firefighter has to deal with colder temperatures. ‘This new technology will change training as well, because it is so intuitively different with firefighters now having permanent vision.

‘Every firefighter that has trialled the Halo says the vision is just perfect, even for people who require glasses. The TIC is exactly the right height, and users can move the display up and down according to their requirements.’

The camera features spot temperature measurement with four colour maps with single button configuration.

Did Halo Thermal Imaging have to make any sacrifices to create the smallest and lightest thermal imaging camera in the world?

‘At the minute we do not run a 384 x 288 sensor, but a 160 x 120 core which is upscaled to be equivalent to 320 x 240. Obviously the more pixels you can cram into a screen, the clearer the image, but the real question is how many pixels do you really need?

‘We decided not to implement a higher number of pixels in the image because this would mean having to increase the size of the TIC. Our research revealed that if you marry up a good 160 x 120 sensor with the right lens and software you get a superbly performing camera at the smallest size,' he exaplained.

The Halo has been through a range of extensive tests ranging from heat testing and water testing to trials for robustness. The TIC is certified to the IP67 standard and is in the process of attaining NFPA 1801certification. All Halo Thermal Imaging cameras go through the same process and the hands-free version is no exception, conforming to current standards.

As well as being clipped on a helmet in any position the user requires, the camera can be attached onto a tunic and operated with a lanyard.

With ten hours battery life before requiring a recharge, and a weight of only 390g, the Halo has built-in shutter scanning awareness. This is to avoid missing information when the detector is callibrating itself or switching between different operating modes.

The Halo has a continous operating range from -20oC to 85oC, and can operate for 15 minutes within the range of 150oC. For temperatures above 260oC it can operate for 7 minutes. It can withstand a drop from a height of two metres onto concrete.

‘Right from the start we have always wanted to design and build the most innovative fire safety products. With the Halo thermal imaging camera, I know we have achieved this. To provide a firefighter with the best tools when they are working in such a difficult, and life threatening environment, gives myself and our team immense pride,’ concluded James.

  • Operation Florian

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