9/11 spawns portable disaster comms device

AUCKLAND (12/01/2003) - A multi-technology communications and computing package, designed by a collaboration of vendors in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, is being marketed here to military, police and local government emergency response organizations.

A backpack houses the package and typically contains a Fujitsu Ltd. tablet computer with infrared keyboard as alternative input, a satellite-capable handset and portable communications devices to give to members of rescue teams.

The idea for the collection of devices was conceived by Doug Linman, a telecomms-knowledgeable volunteer with a UN rescue group at "Ground Zero" in New York. He saw first-hand the difficulty rescue coordinators outside had communicating with firefighters inside the World Trade Center towers using low-frequency radio, due to the amount of metal in the buildings' structure. This may have contributed to the deaths of many of the firefighters when the towers collapsed.

Linman asked companies to contribute to a communications device that would operate over multiple channels -- radio, cellphone and satellite all the way from 0.1KHz to 12GHz frequencies -- using multiple protocols and integrating voice, data and video.

Eighteen vendors, including Fujitsu, Nokia and Microsoft, came to the party, and Intel designed a special transponder chip. NASA contributed a hydrogen fuel cell the size of a PC card, which can be plugged into any of the devices. Solar panels recharge the cell in a few hours.

To enable the pack to be kept on the back, a gauntlet was developed with an embedded screen and large keys suitable for a protectively gloved hand. A standalone model of the gauntlet is currently under development to allow some communication without the backpack.

Linman founded NetworkAnatomy, based in California, to coordinate manufacturing and selling of the device.

Wellington-based Chinza has the Australasian agency for the device, and has also tried for sales in China and Southeast Asia. It has approached police, military and local councils' emergency management offices; councils are obliged to set up emergency response plans by the end of next year.

But it has yet to gain its first New Zealand sale.

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