University of Memphis Hosts CommanDING Tech Challenge of the National Institute of Standards and Technology  

March 21, 2023 — The FedEx Institute of Technology of the University of Memphis was the site location of the final phase of the Technology Demonstration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Command Dashboard Integrating Next-Gen Technology (CommanDING Tech) Challenge.

This was a four-phase competition seeking the best next-generation incident command dashboards that advances public safety's ability to respond to emergencies through better UI/UX and data integration. PSCR and its Challenge partners, of whom are listed on Challenge.gov and the Freelancer.com Challenge website, awarded prizes valued at up to $1 million.

Through the CommanDING Tech Challenge, PSCR worked to improve the quality and usability of incident command dashboards. The challenge sought to improve existing dashboards and also provide an opportunity for new entries into the field. PSCR wanted dashboards that improve public safety officials’ ability to respond to emergencies through effective user interfaces and user experiences, the ability to work with data input from sensors and video streams and the ability to locate both stationary and mobile sensors in 3-D space.

This challenge brought together first responders, video analytics professionals, public safety experts and contestants to advance the quality and availability of Incident Command Dashboards for public safety. 

The judging panel for the final phase included experts in public safety, technology and communication disciplines and backgrounds. These included: 

  • Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, executive vice president for Research & Innovation, University of Memphis (Judge)
  • Billy Freeman, senior public safety advisor, First Responder Network Authority (Judge)
  • Dereck Orr, division chief, NIST PSCR (Judge)
  • R. Mark Heath, executive director, Business Continuity & Risk Management, University of Memphis (Subject Matter Expert)
  • Charles Laird, First Responder Emerging Technologies (FirstTech) Program, North Carolina Department of Information Technology (Subject Matter Expert)

Dr. Lan Wang, professor and Department of Computer Science Chair at the University of Memphis, led the NIST-funded Map901 project with Co-PI Dr. Eddie Jacobs, professor of Electronic and Computer Engineering, to produce accurate building models with detailed annotations. In collaboration with the City of Memphis, they surveyed seven buildings with 1.86 million square feet of indoor space to produce annotated 3D point cloud models, 360-degree camera images and other sensor data. They also shared the data with public stakeholders through the City’s data portal. The 3D point cloud model of the FedEx Institute of Technology was used by competitors of the NIST CommanDING Tech Challenge. 

“3D building information and real-time sensor data are critical to the safety of first responders and building occupants during emergency operations, but it is easy to overwhelm the users if all the information is displayed to them at the same time,” said Wang. “I was very impressed by the demos I watched during the NIST challenge. They were able to effectively integrate various data sources into their user interface, and more importantly, they carefully chose the types and levels of information most useful to the users based on the users’ needs.”   

Winners of the CommanDING Tech Challenge were:

First place - Headwall VR | Beltsville, Md.

Headwall’s solution allows for a digital twin of a command center to be deployed quickly and compactly in a virtual or mixed reality headset. The end user can either retrofit an existing command center or build Headwall capabilities into a command center design. After the command center is equipped with this outbound capability, a digital twin of it can be deployed in a headset instantly. The end user needs only to set up a PC with an internet or LANconnection to the master command center. The user can then have access to the entire complement of situational awareness tools that lie within the master command center. Headwall’s core technology is patent-pending video processing that allows for IP packetized streams to be ingested at near lossless compression into a game engine environment. In addition, Headwall enables hardware control outbound to the physical command center. This allows users to do things like pan, tilt and zoom surveillance cameras, manipulate video switchers and have keyboard video mouse capabilities.

Second place - BadVR, Inc. | Los Angeles, Calif.

BadVR’s technology is uniquely characterized by creative UX and interactivity, on-prem and offline mobility, and high throughput for multiple live data streams. Leveraging AR/VR, the proposed dashboard empowers commanders with an immersive sandbox environment in which they can place and rearrange dynamic data visualization components with live collaboration. Everyone can engage across a variety of devices using natural hands tracking, and literally pull apart datasets to create a deeper understanding and take immediate action. By emphasizing usability and a reduced technical burden, the system can both lower cognitive load and increase situational awareness during high stress scenarios.

Third place - TurnRock Labs | Seattle, Wash.

This contestant is developing a comprehensive decision-support operations and forecasting environment called SpaceJam to support the mission of the USA’s Warfighters, First Responders and Law Enforcement. SpaceJam connects humans to visualizations of critical information, connects machines to virtual representations of real systems and builds bridges between human experience and machine reality to provide a common operations environment so that all stakeholders can form consensus on the world around them and the rules they operate by so they can speak the same language and work together to accomplish the mission. SpaceJam can ingest data in any format and localize objects and data within a 3D visualization environment that is easily customizable to on-demand mission needs. The UI/UX dashboards overlay and integrate to digital twins to enable cross-communication between simulation and data displays. This enables dashboards to better display critical insights rather than raw information, reducing cognitive load on decision makers, improving situational awareness, and leads to faster and more effective decision-making. 

Fourth place - Engineering Dynamics | Silver Spring, Md.

Engineering Dynamics’ solution is an incident command dashboard consisting of a tactical map and an arbitrary number of video feeds. The map shows personnel location and status, available cameras and environmental factors (such as hazards and temperature) in an accessible manner without displaying an excessively distracting display. The exact data available on the map represents near-term available sensors based on currently available/widely deployable sensors, IoT datalinks and indoor positioning technology.

For more information, contact the FedEx Institute of Technology at fedex@memphis.edu, or Wang at lanwang@memphis.edu.