A+ in safety

Houston-area school district to install first-of-its-kind safety technology

The Aldine Independent School District is the first to employ a new technology focused on campus safety. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Insight Enterprises has announced a collaboration with the city of Houston, Microsoft, and BeSafe to bring the ActiveShield concept to two Houston-area schools this summer. Aldine Independent School District was selected to be the first school district in the nation to implement an IoT platform like this, a representative says.

Safe Spaces a group of tools developed by Tempe, Arizona-based Insight, a Fortune 500 global systems integrator. The safety technology focuses on emergency situations, such as sound sensors, color-coded LED lighting, and real-time information sharing that can notify first responders with pertinent information as soon as possible.

"Knowledge is power, and our mission is to save lives by providing the right information to the right people at the right time," says Kevin Harrington, CEO of BeSafe Technologies, in a release. "What we see with Insight Safe Spaces is the ability to use IoT to build on our core capabilities to further improve public safety. This creates a communication hub that instantly connects on-site security with police, fire and other emergency responders, as well as building occupants."

The schools will be equipped with several of Safe Spaces' technologies, such as:

  • Cameras, sound and motion sensors, etc. that capture data that is then integrated with third-party security systems. (This allows for real-time information sharing and emergency response.)
  • Panic buttons for teachers or staff.
  • Color-coded smart lights that automatically warn of an emergency and indicate how close you are to danger or the school's safe zones.
  • Real-time communication to on-site security and emergency services, with different alerts or action plans based on the information being shared with the central system.
  • Direct lines of communication for people involved in the crisis via a navigation-based mobile app to provide updates and safety instructions in real time.

Together, Insight Safe Spaces and Microsoft Azure IoT solution accelerators combine technological forces to enable Raleigh, North Carolina-based BeSafe to open "new doors to enhanced public safety," says Stan Lequin, vice president and general manager, Insight Digital Innovation, in the release.

"Insight is helping BeSafe expand its foundation of advanced building information technology, transforming these capabilities into interactive action plans that give emergency responders a critical advantage when every second saved potentially means a life saved," Lequin adds.

BeSafe was founded in 1999 to enhance safety in schools by providing emergency response teams advance information about the school's layout, emergency exits, and more. Now, with the new age of technology, the organization is expanding its horizons, and AISD is the first to implement the collaboration of this technology.

"Student and staff safety are a top priority. The partnership with the city of Houston and Microsoft will take our efforts to the next level," says AISD's superintendent of schools, LaTonya M. Goffney, in the release.

The solution to Houston's workforce problem might be right in front of our eyes. Getty Images

Everyone's job has training associated with it — from surgeons to construction crane operators — and there's a growing market need for faster, more thorough training of our workforce.

"The best way to learn how to do something, is to just get out and do it," says Eric Liga, co-founder of HoustonVR. "But there are a lot of reasons why you can't do that in certain types of training."

Augmented and virtual reality training programs are on the rise, and Liga cites safety, cost, and unpredictable work environments as some of these most obvious reasons reasons to pivot to training employees through extended reality. This type of training also provides portability and has proven higher retention, Liga says in his keynote speech at Station Houston's AR/VR discuss on April 25.

"You get a much higher retention rate when you actually go out and do something — physically going through the motions — than you do sitting in a classroom or reading a book," he says.

As more companies are introducing this type of technology into the workforce, there's a growing need for developers and experts to design these programs. Currently, it's rare for a company to have employees with XR expertise.

"Working on commercial accounts, I see a lot of customers who have done enterprise software — web pages and forums — but it's a very different skill set from simulations," says Jared Bienz, senior software engineer at Microsoft.

So, companies are faced with hiring developers and designers to create these training programs. Ethan LeSueur, who oversees immersive technology at ExxonMobil, says his team benefitted from the cut-throat game design industry. So many developers want to go into video game creation, but there's not enough jobs. At Exxon, developers get to create games — but for training purposes. LeSueur says he looks for a diversity of programming experience when hiring for these types of jobs.

"It's important to not have one skill set," he says. "We're looking for the people who are sort of a swiss army knife. You don't have to know everything, but if they have more than one specific skill set, that's really important."

But hiring a team might not be the only option to AR/VR development. Working with startups has been an avenue for major companies seeking out XR programs.

"People talk about digital transformation all the time, but half the time we wouldn't know what that looked like if that slapped us in the face," LeSueur says. "That's what we're asking startups to do — help slap us in the face."

LeSueur says that proving cost effectiveness is extremely important for startups looking to win big companies as clients, but so is passion. The complexity of the process as well as all the red tap of business calls for passion from a startup.

"We're trying to take a complicated physical process and digitize it," LeSueur says. "That means there's going to be a lot of back and forth."

From the startup perspective, it's not always easy working with major corporations – especially within oil and gas. Amanda, who works with construction clients and larger companies as an instructor at ITI, recommends having someone on the inside to look out for you.

"I think it's really important to have an internal champion who really owns the product and wants to see it through to its last degree of integration."

On display

Courtesy of Station Houston

After the panel, Station Houston VR companies showed off their programming.