NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge

Design a physical measurement environment that uses immersive virtual reality tools for testing new first responder technologies

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed



Evolving technologies have the potential to revolutionize how first responders do their jobs. Will heads-up-displays guide firefighters through smoke-filled buildings while smart glasses link EMS with doctors in real time?  What if a vest that collects vital signs and provides haptic feedback could keep police officers safer?


These exciting new technologies can’t be implemented without testing and verification. That is the genesis of this challenge. How do you test if a technology is helpful inside of a burning building without actually having a fire?  Do smart glasses get in the way of responding to an emergency? Testing to collect this data must be performed in a way that is safe, controlled and repeatable.


The Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Public Safety Innovation Accelerator, is crowdsourcing ideas and designs for measurement environments that use immersive virtual reality tools in conjunction with physical spaces to simulate first responder scenarios for accurate and repeatable testing of new first responder interfaces and technologies.


What is a Public Safety Virtual Test Environment?

A first responder can't safely enter a smoke-filled room with a live fire for testing, how do you simulate a realistic experience while maintaining safety?  Is physical feedback, like a hot wall, needed?  Can the smoke and flames be a part of a scene displayed in a virtual reality headset? Using NIST’s scenarios and interfaces for testing, your great ideas are needed to construct the simulation. Imagine creating a physical space in which ideal components, technologies, and interfaces are used together to make the most optimal environment for providing first responders a scientifically repeatable, measurable space that takes public safety experiences into consideration.

The best answers to these problems could come from a range of specialties - which makes it all the more exciting. Wherever the winning design comes from, public safety will have taken a huge step into the future once it is made available.


What Can You Do Right Now?

  • Read the complete challenge guidelines to see the rules and requirements for entry into the challenge.
  • “Accept Challenge” by clicking the orange button above to compete in the challenge. 
  • "Follow" the challenge above to be notified of any status updates to the challenge.
  • Share this challenge with your friends and family or anyone who might be interested. You can use the Share button above to share this page.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.



New technologies, including wearable interfaces like heads up displays, smart watches, and biological monitors have the potential to increase first responder safety while enhancing performance. However, variability in current testing procedures/environments pose a challenge in assessing the effectiveness of emerging technologies. To assess the potential of new technologies and compare technologies against each other, NIST is crowdsourcing ideas that use virtual/immersive environments in conjunction with physical spaces to create accurate first responder scenarios and a repeatable test environment for technology evaluation. 

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Pre-registration begins           February 28, 2017

Open to submissions              March 28, 2017

Submission deadline               May 3, 2017 @ 5pm ET

Judging                                   May 4 to June 11, 2017

Crowd Voting                          May 8 to May 19, 2017

Winners Announced               June 12, 2017



NIST will award a grand total of up to $50,000 in overall cash prizes:

  • The guaranteed minimum prize amount, per finalist, will be $5,000
  • Up to 5 competitors could share a $45,000 prize purse, as awarded by the judges
  • A popular vote Award of $5,000, determined by crowd voting, will be given following the submission deadline


How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, your design proposal must, at minimum:

  • Satisfy the Judging Criteria
  • Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions
  • Be scored higher than your competitors!


Judging Criteria

SectionDescriptionOverall Weight
RealityHow well does the design emulate a real first responder experience?20
AvailabilityIs the technology proposed currently available?15

Ability to accommodate multiple and variety of scenes/scenarios.

(see the NIST provided examples of some first responder scenes NIST is interested in accommodating)

Metrics Collection

How well does the design enable the collection of measurements and data from the first responder?

(see the NIST provided examples of some data and metrics NIST is interested in collecting)

ReplicabilityHow replicable is your design for future labs to recreate?10
RepeatabilityHow long does it take the operator to reset the scene in between simulations?




How many different technologies and/or interfaces can your design accommodate for testing?

(see the NIST provided examples for a list of technologies NIST is interested in testing)

SafetyHow safe is your design for the end-users?5
Above and BeyondHow does your submission go above and beyond the listed criteria?5

* Lowest-cost competitors will not automatically achieve higher ranking.



The NIST official rules are posted on and a full copy of those rules are in the Challenge Specific Agreement on HeroX. The following information is provided as reference and is not all-inclusive.


To be eligible for the cash prizes, individuals must be age 18 at the time of entry and U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States. In the case of a private entity, the business shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States or its territories.  Participants may not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.  [NIST Guest Researchers, as well as direct recipients of NIST funding awards through any Center of Excellence established by NIST, are not eligible to enter.] Non-NIST Federal employees acting in their personal capacities should consult with their respective agency ethics officials to determine whether their participation in this Competition is permissible. 

See the Challenge Specific Agreement for full eligibility details.



The prize competition winners will be paid prizes directly from NIST. Prior to payment, winners will be required to verify eligibility. The verification process with the agency includes providing the full legal name, tax identification number or social security number, routing number and banking account to which the prize money can be deposited directly.


Intellectual Property:

Any applicable intellectual property rights to an Entry will remain with the Participant.  By participating in the prize challenge, the Participant is not granting any rights in any patents, pending patent applications, or copyrights related to the technology described in the Entry.  However, by submitting an Entry, the Participant is granting NIST, NASA, and any parties acting on their behalf certain limited rights as set forth herein.


By submitting an Entry, the Participant grants to NIST, NASA, and any parties acting on their behalf the right to review the Entry, to describe the Entry in any materials created in connection with this competition, and to screen and evaluate the Entry. NIST and NASA, and any parties acting on their behalf will also have the right to publicize Participant’s name and, as applicable, the names of Participant’s team members and/or Organization which participated in submitting the Entry following the conclusion of the Competition.


As part of its submission, the Participant must provide written consent granting NIST, NASA, and any parties acting on their behalf, a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to display publicly and use for promotional purposes the Participant’s entry (“demonstration license”). This demonstration license includes posting or linking to the Participant’s entry on NIST and NASA’s websites, including the Competition Website, and partner websites, and inclusion of the Participant’s Entry in any other media, worldwide.


Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before 5pm ET on May 3rd, 2017. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.


Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the highest votes from the judges.


The final determination of the winners will be made at the sole discretion of NIST. Scores and feedback from NIST will not be shared.


Popular Choice Award Voting:

The $5,000 popular choice award will be awarded based on number of votes received during the voting period.  A competitor is eligible to win both a Judges' Award and the People's Choice Award.  

All votes are subject to review. Any competitor using unfair methods to solicit votes will be automatically disqualified from the challenge.

Entries that are eligible for the Voting stage will become viewable to the public. Make sure that if your entry moves on to the Voting stage, that you're OK with anyone seeing it! Depending on the number of entries received, either all or a selected shortlist will move on to the Voting stage.


Challenge Updates

A Breakthrough in First Responders Technology!

June 12, 2017, 11 a.m. PDT by Paul Musille

The time has come for the $50,000 NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge - we have the winners!


It’s been a whirlwind of a competition. In just 60 short days, a community came together around a very technical and specific ask: Design a physical measurement environment that uses immersive virtual reality tools for testing new first responder technologies. By the submission deadline, we had received 21 completed entries to the challenge and built up a following of over 700 people. Impressive work for any crowdsourcing project, and even more so given a tight timeline!

And now, after careful review by our judging panel and a public vote, the top award recipients are as follows:


$20,000 Prize

Jason Jerald’s solution - FirstSimVR:Measuring Future Tools Using Today's VR -

A reconfigurable VR platform for evaluating and refining future technologies to be used for different first-responder scenarios.


$12,000 Prize

Zach Huber’s solution - Reconfigurable Vehicle Training System -

Training system including a virtually reconfigurable vehicle and physical mannequin with environmental factors (smell, weather, etc.).


$8,000 Prize

UNSN’s solution - MultiVRse - Parallel Physical and VR Universes -

Auto VR visualisation matching the physical space, untethered & unbounded VR, interaction with real & VR objects, no cameras needed + more!


$5,000 Prize

Kirk McKinzie’s solution - Augmented Reality Emergency Response System -

Multi-sensor based, indoor positioning technology to simulate a first responder emergency situation through a wearable SMART device..


Crowd Voting $5,000 Award

Variablelabs’s solution - The Future is Hidden in the Successes of the Past - A system which leverages interoperable standards to test educational curricula with a wide variety of stakeholders.


Honorable Mention

John Quarles's team’s solution - PerSim™: Realistic, Portable, Low Cost Simulation -

PerSim trains first responders using augmented reality simulation. It is more realistic, portable, and lower cost than current solutions.


The award winners were invited to participate in the PSCR Annual Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting, June 12-14, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. ( Dereck Orr, PSCR Division Chief, announced the winners at the conference during his presentation, Monday, June 12. $50,000 in total prize money will be distributed among four finalists and the popular vote award winner.


We would like to take this opportunity to give a special thanks to all of the innovators who entered the challenge. While only those listed above are receiving the prizes and recognition, there were many other robust submissions that demonstrated notable potential. We are confident that all participants, no matter the final placing of their submission, will go on to find success in the rapidly expanding world of public safety technology and AR/VR.


Since February of this year, the whole challenge community through its varied roles and talents brought the NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge to life. Whether it was through continued interest, support, voting, or actually crafting a solution, the community helped demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing to critical stakeholders. Each time the crowd rises to a challenge in this way, it helps secure a future rich in innovation and open access to ideas. Our deepest gratitude to all who took part. Whatever you do next, don’t let this be your last experience with a crowdsourcing competition!

[URGENT] LAST DAY for Voting for Best NIST Virtual Public Safety Submission!

May 19, 2017, 7:21 a.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

TODAY is your last chance to have your vote count! Head over to the voting page now and choose your favorite submissions. Voting officially closes at 11:59 pm EDT 

One Week Left in the Public Voting Round

May 12, 2017, 5:05 p.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

The last week for voting is upon us!  Friday, May 19th at 11:59 pm Eastern Time is the last opportunity to voice your opinion for the best submission to the NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge. Don't hesitate - check out the amazing VR test environment concepts from this community (and be sure to tell your friends!)

Voting is Now Live for the NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge

May 8, 2017, 12:50 p.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

Let the Voting Begin

13 submissions have been chosen to move on to the voting round, which means the fate of this challenge is now in your hands! For the next 11 days, these submissions will duke it out for the crowd favorite.  The last votes need to be in by May 19, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. EDT and the final winners' announcement is expected to be released on June 12th.

Here's your chance to help choose that winner, so take a look and tell us what you think! 

T minus 24 hours to the submission deadline!

May 2, 2017, 1:46 p.m. PDT by Paul Musille

The submission deadline for the NIST Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge is in ~24 hours! 

Wednesday, May 3rd at 5pm EDT is your very last chance to submit your solution.  There's the potential that 6 different submissions could all be awarded $5,000 (or more)!  There are just about 10 early birds who have submitted already, so take advantage of the great odds and get your submssion finalized!

Don't forget that you can ask any questions about the challenge right here on the comments section of this update -- and the Forum is always a great resource for your questions and comments as well.

Good luck, and we can't wait to see what you've got! 

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Pablo Dunovits's team Pablo Dunovits's team
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hitesh lakhyani's team hitesh lakhyani's team
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Christopher Chambers's team Christopher Chambers's team
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Alan Smithson's team Alan Smithson's team
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John Quarles's team John Quarles's team
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Pascal Bergeron's team Pascal Bergeron's team
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Bay Warland's team Bay Warland's team
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breakthrough breakthrough
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