You Don’t Know What You Can’t See

Over the past years, chemical identification analyzers have become smaller and lighter, and these compact handheld systems do provide a level of convenience. Nonetheless, as the chemical detection equipment has become smaller, certain capabilities are more limited, leaving many emergency response personnel to search for better answers or workarounds.

As an example, infrared spectral information appears as peaks and valleys corresponding to key chemical molecular features. Once the spectrum of an unidentified substance is acquired, a spectral library of reference chemicals is searched and the best match is presented. Previously, portable case-mounted systems with larger display screens not only enabled operators to easily view the reference spectrum along with the spectrum of the unidentified substance but equally important, to visually inspect and manipulate the data. Users were trained to verify the library match and to use expand and zoom features of these larger displays to aid in determining if a mixture was present.

The miniaturization of portable chemical analyzers is associated with a significant decrease in screen size and this reduces the ability to compare and manipulate spectra. This is particularly true when the responder is in gear. Also, this often forces the user to use external computers for data manipulation and analysis, and may indeed increase the chances of over reliance on simple “yes-no” answers.

When RedWave set out to develop the ThreatID, we interviewed many responders and were alerted to this issue of diminished screen size and associated lack of capability/flexibility in data inspection. For this reason, we built ThreatID with the largest and brightest display screen currently available on any analyzer, which allows spectra to be easily viewed and manipulated, regardless of ambient light conditions.

Running on Android software, ThreatID is controlled in a similar fashion as a mobile phone or tablet, enabling zoom or scrolling of spectra with one finger. Additionally, an expansion button fills the entire 10” screen with the spectrum of both the unidentified substance and the selected reference match, providing images clearly visible even inside level A gear.

The responders who have had the opportunity to use ThreatID have given us significant positive feedback on the size and brightness of the display screen in comparison to handheld systems. Even more significant, we learned that though handheld systems function acceptably when more complex substances are analyzed, there is a lack of ability to view the collected data and inspect it further. They commented that their workaround is to transfer data to a PC and purchase additional software to manipulate and analyze the data. It is the combination of ThreatID’s screen size, computing power, and complete software suite that impressed these early users. The capability to pinch, zoom, expand spectral overlays, edit/configure reports, and copy and email information in all levels of protective gear was very well received.

The flexibility and ergonomics of ThreatID were shaped by our engineers’ understanding of what responders must deal with in their job. For example, Mark Stoltze, our lead software engineer, spent significant time in SCBA gear and level A gear to get a first-person view of the software his team was creating. He wanted to make sure that his software team understood the obstructed view and difficult situations that many of our customers will face in their job.

In gear, simple motor functions were limited, and the suit quickly became uncomfortably warm. I saw first-hand what it is like to analyze substances through two layers of masks and how text and buttons on the screen that usually were easy to view/operate outside the suit, became far more challenging to use.

– Mark Stoltze, Lead Software Engineer

For this reason, during the development of ThreatID the position and size of operating controls and spectral display were continually modified and optimized. Mark commented that working inside gear will be a mandatory trial for his engineers who are designing future software upgrades and editions.