Blazing a Trail
UI alums’ Ascent Integrated Technology Integrated aids firefighters with high-tech platform.
Firefighters have one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, but often lack technology that may keep them safer in hazardous conditions.
“It’s pretty unjust that firefighters are risking their lives every day, but are still using Vietnam-era technology,” said Grainger Engineering alum Paul Couston, who graduated with a bachelor’s in industrial and enterprise systems engineering. “We all have computational devices in our pockets that are far more advanced, so we thought to take advantage of that to create new tools for firefighting.”
Along with co-founder Alex Gorsuch, also a UI alum, Couston launched Ascent Integrated Technology to update firefighting technology. Ascent has created a new platform that uses wearables and custom sensors that leverage artificial intelligence to enable an on-site emergency commander to monitor an individual firefighter's locations, activities and vitals. At Ascent's core is 3-D GPS—Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLaM) and a centralized display screen — that can generate predictions of the layout of a structure so that commanders know within a 0.6-meter accuracy the location of their firefighters. It also provides environmental data, such as heat mapping or the toxicity of the air in a burning building, and a readiness score that includes biometrics, shift data and more.
The product's design is platform-agnostic so that the control display can integrate and share data with the firefighting technology from manufacturers such as Motorola, Scott, MSA, Kenwood and others that is already widely used.
So far, Ascent is on track for sustainable success. Eighteen fire departments – including departments in Detroit and Cedar Rapids, Iowa — and 115 stations have adopted the technology for a total of 2,500 firefighters on the platform.
They've completed two rounds of financing. Ascent has two contracts with an Air Force fire department in Florida, the 96th Civil Engineering Squad — and also has a new contract with the U.S. Army. The company has had so much success that it recently relocated from the University of Illinois Research Park to Chicago, where their new offices are, fittingly, located in a refurbished former dispatch center for the Chicago Fire Department.