Pilots battling forest fires across the province endure unique stresses and challenges, explains Rich Burman, Interaction Lead for the Camosun Innovates team. “They’ll fly right into a smoke column and they say it’s like turning the lights off in a room, pitch black and all you can see are embers,” he says. “Their heart rates go up significantly in the space of a few seconds.”
Burman and his Camosun Innovates colleagues are working on a collaborative project with partners Conair Aviation Group, University of British Columbia and Latitude Technologies to monitor pilot fatigue and to improve overall flying safety. Phase 1 was led by UBC and Camosun is leading the project’s field-focussed Phase 2, which monitors vital signs of pilots battling forest fires in real-time, using wearable technology such as heart rate monitors and Fitbits.
During British Columbia’s 2017 forest fire season, Camosun Innovates team member Sydney Chapman travelled to air tanker bases across the province to work directly with pilots. The “on the ground approach” was essential to project success, explains Leigh Barratt, Project Manager for Conair. “No research goes well from the office when it’s field-oriented,” he says. “It was extremely important to have somebody out, face to face, talking to the pilots, collecting data from them, adapting to their needs, helping them with their equipment, and answering questions about the research.”
“It’s been an eye-opening and exciting experience,” explains Chapman, whose expertise in Athletic Exercise Therapy underlines the project’s interdisciplinary approach. “I was going to different bases and representing Camosun, keeping pilots motivated so that we could gather their data.” In all, 13 pilots participated throughout the season and Camosun has gathered invaluable individual stress and fatigue data that is now in the process of being analysed.
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