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Computer Engineering grad’s fire technology will help protect lives

October 22, 2019
Alexander Smith stands in front of inspirational quote in the JD Brown Center for Entrepreneurship.

It’s called Fire Vision, futuristic technology that literally lets firefighters see what’s inside burning buildings. It can protect the lives of first responders and others, as well as companies’ property and equipment.

The application comes from a young man’s love of how things work planted by his dad and cultivated by York College of Pennsylvania’s innovative Computer Engineering curriculum. “My dad was a software engineer. That got me into the technology aspect of how things worked,” says Alexander Smith, who graduated from the College in 2018. “When it was time to decide on a major, I found the right mix between electrical engineering and computer science in computer engineering.”

Then came the task of finding the right school. Many schools had the classes but only a few had the specialized degree, places like MIT and York College. “Of all these schools, York College offered the most hands-on approach,” Alexander recalls of his campus visit. “As soon as we walked in the door, a professor asked if he could show us around. Touring the building and seeing the projects the students had built was astounding. Car projects that mechanical engineers do and robots in the Kinsley Building all made York College stand out.”

Outside the classroom

Taking this learning to a company during a co-op let Alexander complete the cycle of what he learned in the way of modern business practices. “My capstone senior design project was being on a team that built the first electric version of a formula racecar, basically a 400-pound, 150-kilowatt hour go-cart, on which I was lead software engineer,” Alexander says.

During his internship, he learned from the employees at medical diagnostics company Becton-Dickinson about how the architecture of a huge medical system worked. “I was able to take their agile management structure and use it for my capstone project,” he says.

Alexander says the keys he learned there were understanding the breadth of a project and working with the human factor of this. This human factor is uppermost in Alexander’s mind as he works on the Vision First technology for his company, Fire Solutions Group (FSG). “When firefighters size up a burning building, they must sift through documents showing where fire hazards and fire protection systems are,” Alexander says. “The Fire Vision application presents this information visually. It allows firefighters to actually see where these hazards and suppression systems are, saving valuable time.”

Fire Vision is now in design with hopes for an initial company test this fall. “We’ll then get feedback for improvements from the customer standpoint,” Alexander says. Safety is key, but Vision First could also save businesses significant insurance dollars by making their properties safer. “It’s like a safe driver program,” Alexander believes. Further, this system could lower costs by enhancing protection through better preventive maintenance. “You can see that a specific sprinkler system needs repairs, reducing overhead costs.”

York College still helping

Fire Solutions Group continues to benefit from York College’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship. “The Center allows us to have an office close to professors who provide us with interns they know can pull their own weight,” Alexander says.

The Center also gives FSG a stable business foundation outside of their expertise as engineers and software developers. “Another business in the J.D. Brown Center, the Ben Franklin Investor Group, has given us a ton of useful advice on how to do business we don’t know as engineers,” Alexander notes.

Alexander enthusiastically recommends his alma mater to Computer Engineering students. “York College’s Computer Engineering curriculum gave me a Swiss army knife of knowledge I could apply in my career,” Alexander says. “The hands-on experience and personal relationships with my professors, because it’s a smaller school, put me ahead. The professors got to know me and what I wanted to do, and they helped me achieve this.”