The Tech to Protect challenge from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) is giving startups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to solve critical technology problems facing emergency responders.
During the challenge, 62 teams submitted prototypes into an online challenge, and 25 teams were invited to demonstrate their technology at the May 1 National Award Event. Four teams received “excellent” ratings, five teams received “superior” ratings, and six teams received “very good” ratings.
Team QuantaSTAT and Team Corroborator were two of the teams that received “excellent” ratings during the competition. Team QuantaSTAT focused on creating a digital triage application that seamlessly provides real-time information on the status of a patient through the care process, from the field to the hospital.
A victim during an emergency situation will likely come into contact with multiple responders and medical personnel during the response, said QuantaSTAT CEO Heather Sittig. Police generally arrive first and secure a scene, and then EMS personnel come to care for casualties and finally a patient is taken to the hospital and treated by medical staff.
As that patient moves through the care of different first responders, it’s common for those first responders to lose track of updated information on that patient, which can cause difficulties if a victim’s family asks a police officer about their status, Sittig said.
The QuantaSTAT digital triage app seeks to eliminate these deficiencies in the data sharing process by creating a comprehensive data picture shared among all personnel involved in responding to an emergency, ensuring that they know exactly what’s going on with each patient throughout the response.
Most medical triaging is done through paper tags, which have a variety of weaknesses including being easy to damage or lose and lacking the ability to keep emergency personnel consistently updated throughout the process. When responders begin care of a victim with QuantaSTAT, they assign that victim a unique ID number generated by the app that can either be attached to the victim with a barcode or written on that person.
The creation of the unique ID creates a patient record that responders and medical personnel throughout the response process can use to get real-time information on the status of that person. Additionally, the app automatically updates the patient’s location through GPS and maps the location of all victims involved so emergency crews can ensure each victim receives care.
The platform is compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) privacy requirements and allows integration with wearables such as heart-rate monitors. For example, if a victim’s heart rate drops below a certain level, the system can automatically send an alert to those involved in the case to get that victim aid as quickly as possible.
Sittig and her partners developed an idea of a comprehensive data capture tool for the healthcare industry, and the Tech to Protect challenge offered a perfect opportunity to take that idea and put it into practice.
“I was so excited because here was this thing that we dreamed up, and here was a framework for doing and launching it,” Sittig said.
The QuantaSTAT app is a tool for mass casualty incidents (MCI), but the team is working to ensure that it can be used in a variety of daily operations for different organizations.
“It’s our belief that if they’re using it day-to-day, they’ll go to it for an MCI,” Sittig said. “If you don’t use it regularly, you’re not going to learn it for an MCI.”
Meanwhile, Team Corroborator focused its entry in the Tech to Protect challenge on applying blockchain to the digital evidence management process. For the competition, the team created a mobile application that takes images taken at a crime scene, logs the specific fingerprint of that photo and saves that photo to an append-only database based on blockchain, said Ian Philips, a member of Team Corroborator.
Any edits to the image in the database create a pointer that points back to the original fingerprint of the photo. The application uses cryptographic keys to confirm user identities and allow edits such as blurring of faces or cropping. The goal of the application was to create a secure, strong chain of evidence using cryptographic keys, Philips said.
In addition to the app, Team Corroborator had a larger goal of creating a protocol that allows integration of different evidence management software. Because of the nature of the current evidence management software market, where most products are proprietary, many agencies become locked in to a specific vendor for all of their evidence-management needs. To help with this, Team Corroborator created what it called the i3 standard to create interoperable evidence management systems and allow agencies to avoid vendor lock-in and have more control over their databases, Philips said.
While the team had success in the competition, Team Corroborator is looking at shifting its focus in product development after seeking input from first responders. From those first responders, the team members learned that the demand for a chain of evidence solution such as theirs may not be as big as they expected, so they are changing their focus to virtual reality (VR) crime scene management, which is a pain point identified in their conversations with first responders.
“I’ve been around the block for startups several times, and I’ve made some technology that I thought was really cool, but no one was interested,” said Philips, noting that before the team members go to market with a solution, they want to ensure that solution addresses a specific public-safety need.
The team is now focusing on a VR video solution that will allow emergency personnel to scan a crime scene and then take that scene into a virtual environment where investigators can consistently return to the scene and add additional layers of data as needed. While the team is pivoting away from its initial solution, much of the same photo integrity technology that powered the first solution will play a key role in the new solution, Philips said.
Generally, crime scene investigators (CSI) will take between 1,000 – 1,500 photos at a particular crime scene and that can lead to complexities in investigation because of the large number of images to manage, Philips said. Team Corroborator is looking at simplifying that process by putting all that data into a single, cohesive VR environment with different layers of data that investigators can use as needed.
One of the key challenges facing the team as it looks at the VR solution is the scanners used to create VR environments. A scanner costs somewhere between $60,000 – $80,000, Philips said. The team is looking into ways to create a more affordable scanner to allow agencies with smaller budgets to use VR technology.
For receiving an excellent rating and winning their respective categories during the demonstration round of the challenge, Corroborator and QuantaSTAT both received $40,000 in funding and are eligible to receive another $30,000 should they meet specific criteria later on in the funding round.
Teams that moved on to the seed round will also receive mentorship from PSCR as they use the received funding to develop a go-to-market strategy for their solutions.
QuantaSTAT is working through the process of getting its application included in the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) App Catalog and hopes to have that approval completed in the next few weeks, Sittig said. The team is also hoping to get it listed in other application stores.
Team Corroborator is focusing on market research as it pivots to the VR technology. The team has received positive feedback from the Denver and Thornton, Colorado, police departments and are looking for more feedback. Public safety organizations interested in proving feedback can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.