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A Digital-Twin Enabled Testbed for Public Safety Communication Technologies

Texas A&M University

In June 2022, Texas A&M University was awarded $1.2M for the Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program 2022 (PSIAP-2022) funding opportunity. 

As the public safety community begins to transition from Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems to packet-based broadband systems such as LTE and 5G technologies, the urgent need for efficient first responder access to broadband communication and innovative technologies becomes apparent. In an effort to provide adequate training for first responders and emergency managers, Texas A&M University in conjunction with TEEX propose to build a digital-twin enabled testbed with the state of the art user interface/user experience design tools and simulation models to provide a high-fidelity virtual environment for first responders to engage, experience, and explore the latest sensing and communication technologies.

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) is an internationally recognized leader in emergency response training, workforce training and technical assistance. In 2021, TEEX served more than 138,000 participants annually in more than 130 countries reaching over 2 million contact hours. TEEX provides federally funded homeland security training and exercises for communities across the nation. Beyond training and technical assistance, the Agency also sponsors Texas A&M Public Works Response Team (TX-PWRT) and Texas A&M Task Force 1 (TX-TF1).

Meet the team

Texas A&M University’s team is made of the following key personnel:

  • Jian Tao, Principal Investigator, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Performance, Visualization, and Fine Arts (SPVFA) at Texas A&M University. He is also the Assistant Director for Project Development at Texas A&M Institute of Data Science (TAMIDS) and holds courtesy appointments at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and the Department of Nuclear Engineering. He has more than 20 years of experience in high-performance computing and numerical modeling. His research interests include computational science, high-performance computing, numerical algorithms, data analytics, machine learning, and workflow management.
  • Walt Magnussen, Co-Principal Investigator, is the Director of Communications, Texas A&M University Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC). He has been in the communications industry for 45 years. As an expert in communications, he directed the data network, voice network, cellular network, and land mobile radio network at Texas A&M University.    
  • Nick Duffield, Co-Principal Investigator, is a Professor in ECE and Director of TAMIDS. He conducts research focused on service quality measurement and management of communications networks, specifically developing technologies and statistical methods to support service planning, operations, and troubleshooting.  
  • Andre Thomas, Co-Principal Investigator, is an Associate Professor of Practice in SPVFA and the Director of the LIVE Lab. He has over 25 years of experience in CGI production and game development. He is an EdTech Leadership award winner, National Academy of Sciences advisory board member, and National Arts Education Association lead instructor, and Chillennium Game Jam chair. With more than 20 years in CGI production, Andre has worked around the world on legendary video games, live action feature films and memorable commercials.
  • Dr. Narasimha Reddy, Co-Principal Investigator, is a Professor in ECE at Texas A&M University. He has been working in the area of storage systems and computer networks for over 30 years. He has contributed to efficient parity solutions for RAID systems, scheduling algorithms for video servers, novel file systems for nonvolatile memories, architectures for processing data in storage, novel Key-Value stores, and other systems. His contributions in the networking area include the development of security solutions for DOS/DDOS attacks, techniques for detecting botnets, and Quality of Service solutions. He will leverage expertise from these two backgrounds for the current project.
  • Joan Quintana, Project Manager, is the Associate Director of ITEC. She is a skilled project manager, communicator, and facilitator with more than 25 years of experience managing research‐based projects with local, state, and federal funding. She will use her broad expertise to effectively manage the proposed project, keeping partners engaged and informed, and overseeing project management, reporting, and communications.
  • Michael E. Fox, Senior Personnel, is the Senior Associate Director of ITEC. He is an accomplished technical executive with 30+ years of experience directing the design, development, and management of pre‐ and post‐sales customer‐facing functions, and designing, deploying and supporting some of the largest networks in the country.

Project overview

Texas A&M University’s project develops a digital-twin enabled testbed and advanced simulation models to provide a photorealistic virtual reality environment for first responders and emergency managers to engage, experience, and explore the latest sensing and communication technologies. In addition to serving as a virtual testing and training facility for first responders, the testbed can also function as an open platform for researchers and entrepreneurs worldwide to collaborate with first responders and emergency managers to develop next-generation sensing and communication technologies and devices specialized for public safety usage.

At the center of this project is a digital twin created for selected training sites in the Disaster City®, a 52-acre training facility managed by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to deliver the full array of skills and techniques needed by today’s emergency response professionals. This project will use a combination of 4G and 5G technology installed at the Disaster City® training facility to collect sensor data coming from cameras, personal worn sensors, and environmental and public safety-specific sensors such as shot spotters. Once developed, the DT and VR platform can be used by public safety through established business models at TEEX to develop new training scenarios and exercises, support or augment existing programs and evaluate the success of all programs.

Potential impacts of the project

This project can be seen as an attempt towards a systematic plan to fill critical technology gaps identified by stakeholders and to build a public-safety-focused R&D ecosystem with a long-lasting impact. With the right team of developers and first responders, this revolutionary technology will change the way that public safety training and exercises are conducted by:

  • Serving as a virtual training facility for first responders and emergency managers.
  • Acting as a platform for equipment and service providers to engage with first responders to develop the next-generation sensing and communication technologies and devices specialized for public safety usage. 
  • Providing a game-like online learning system for K-12 students to experience what first responders could encounter in an emergency.
Created June 23, 2022, Updated August 10, 2022