Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team is currently assisting in a trial of the latest application of wireless broadcast technology - for dogs!
The application is called PAWS, an acronym for portable, all-terrain, wireless system and comprises of a lightweight head cam and harness especially adapted for use by search dogs. Byron an experienced seven year old border collie was recently fitted out with this latest technology and he and handler Robin Furniss of the Service's USAR team put it to the test at a simulated disaster scene at Fort Widley, near Portsmouth.
The Service's search and rescue team including specially trained search dogs, is sent to disasters all over the world. Team members recently attended the aftermath of both the Japanese and New Zealand earthquakes.
Robin Furniss said: "We are helping to trial the ‘dogcam' using the equipment when training with the dogs. It could prove useful in the future, as it is not always possible for firefighters to enter a collapsed building due to the unstable nature of the structure, on these occasions a dog can be sent in as they are lighter and able to move around more safely in these confined conditions. The use of this technology would enable the firefighters outside the building see what situation the dog is working in and the position of the casualty, when the dog is working out of sight of the firefighter."
This latest technology has been developed by the UK firm Wood & Douglas, which specialises in wireless broadcast technology applications.
The British firm grew out of one man's hobby in a spare room. Now Alan Wood's company has a turnover of around £7m, employs over 60 people, and has just opened a million pound technology manufacturing centre, in Berkshire.
The company's wireless portfolio includes remote surveillance equipment for railway lines, to combat cable theft, and radio devices for anti-piracy operations at sea.
Its latest product applies wireless video broadcast technology to the field of search and rescue - as practised by dogs.
Grant Notman of Wood & Douglas explained "a car or other vehicle can be kitted out as a 'receive station'. It contains a large monitor where the person co-ordinating the rescue can see the video come in live. An antenna is set up to receive the information that the dogs will broadcast.
A smaller monitor that straps to the hand is also available and is designed for those getting closer to the action."
Mr Notman continued, explaining why - despite the complex broadcast technology - making the product dog-friendly has been the hardest part of the product's journey.
"First of all the smallest and lightest possible kind of camera had to be sourced. Previous cameras - suitable for human head cams - weighed too heavily on the dogs' heads, and were unworkable. The body harness and head strap had to be as light and unobtrusive as possible too - no mean feat when dogs come in different shapes and sizes, even within breeds."