What if the same wearable devices that track your fitness levels or your tennis serve could be used to help first responders in dangerous situations?
That’s a question the Department of Homeland Security is exploring with a new business model to harness innovative technology from start-ups.
The agency has teamed up with the Center for Innovative Technology, a Washington nonprofit organization, to hunt for commercial wearables that could be modified to fit the needs of first responders.
As part of the agreement, the center has picked two business accelerators to conduct a nationwide competition for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, the group announced Wednesday.
The two companies are Chicago-based TechNexus and Dallas-based Tech Wildcatters. Six finalists will be chosen in May, undergo a two-month training program in the summer and demonstrate their wares to government customers and investors in September.
Potential applications for wearable technology include devices that monitor the health of first responders in real-time, protective fabrics for firefighters’ uniforms or GoPro-like cameras that give them better situational awareness, said David Ihrie, the center’s chief technology officer.
The partnership is part of Homeland Security’s goal to improve its access to new technology, even as it struggles with funding woes and leadership issues. Robert Griffin, deputy undersecretary for the agency’s Science and Technology Directorate, has been a vocal advocate of using emerging technology to aid first responders.
“There was an understanding that their ability to capitalize on innovation wasn’t working very well,” Ihrie said.
The accelerator business model is an effort to reduce red tape and introduce start-ups to a government market they may not have considered, he said.
The business model is based on the Center’s MACH37 cybersecurity accelerator, which conducts 90-day programs to mentor small businesses in Virginia.
Applications are being accepted until May 10.