Published: Sept. 16, 2021

In 2019, a fire occurred at the McMicken energy storage facility in Arizona, where solar-generated electricity is stored in large commercial batteries. One of the battery modules inside a storage container had overheated and caught fire, causing a build-up of gases. Unaware of conditions inside the container, first-responders opened the door, causing an explosion that sent four firefighters to the hospital and threw the captain 73 feet.

In response to the McMicken event, and other safety-related incidents at similar energy storage facilities, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) started looking for solutions to assist first-responders and site-operators to see what is happening inside battery containers without actually opening them up. They approached CU Boulder researchers in the ATLAS Institute's ACME Lab, asking for help to design and prototype an augmented reality application that would display safety-critical information on containers, allowing operators to immediately see from a distance whether a unit is operating normally and safe to open. 

The system they developed is called ARMAS—augmented reality maintenance and safety—a marker-based AR system that lets the user see color-coded visualizations of battery cells inside containers. Providing a kind of "X-ray" vision, the visual display immediately pulls up temperature, voltage and current for any container viewed. If hazardous conditions are detected, alerts are sent and directions given, guiding users to a safe area. They are also provided with contact information for a subject matter expert. Along with safety applications, ARMAS can also help with day-to-day maintenance by visually linking to relevant component manuals and displaying 3D directions to guide technicians to areas that need attention.