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New satellite navigation system may save fire-fighters

A firefighter battles a fire in a house that was in the path of a fast moving wildfire that burned through the northern part of Poway, California October 22, 2007. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

LONDON (Reuters) - A new tracking system to pinpoint people inside smoked-filled buildings has been developed in a move that should slash the risks faced by fire-fighters.

French aerospace company Thales said on Wednesday its Indoor Positioning System (IPS) was aimed initially at helping fire services although it could also be used by the police and armed forces.

Eventually, it could also be applied in the consumer market and offered as an additional service with GPS-enabled cell phones, allowing users to navigate around shopping malls or airports.

The IPS system -- effectively an indoor form of satellite navigation (sat-nav) -- was developed at the company’s technical laboratory in Reading, west of London.

Traditional Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are of no use inside buildings because their signals are too weak and frequently bounce off surfaces, causing confusion.

A Thales spokeswoman said the new system was based on a new kind of radio signal, called Ultra Wide Band, designed for very short range and high data-rate links.

It uses radio pulses that can, for example, establish the positions of fire-fighters inside a building with respect to each other and to fire trucks outside.

Thales is working on the new system, which was first reported in New Scientist magazine, in association with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

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