Verizon’s THOR 5G-enabled vehicle is a new weapon for first responders

The so-called Swiss Army Knife on wheels is designed to operate under any network conditions in any environment, the company said.

Image: Verizon

As Tropical Storm Elsa barrels toward Florida this week, a new, 5G-based tactical humanitarian operations response prototype vehicle dubbed THOR is waiting in the wings to provide help if needed.

THOR was developed by Verizon, which bills it as the first mobile, private 5G and mobile edge compute crisis response vehicle able to operate in any environment, under any network conditions. THOR is capable of providing mission-critical capabilities to first responders and military members in most environments, according to the communications provider.

“Think of THOR as a Swiss Army Knife of 5G on wheels,” said Corey Davis, director of Verizon response and public safety operations. THOR is a “living lab with full, private 5G on there and mobile edge compute that allows us to really deploy … low latency, high bandwidth” technology “in very hard-to-reach places where we have zero infrastructure, like along the southern border.”

SEE: 5G is on pace to be the fastest-deployed mobile communication tech in history (TechRepublic)

This gives public safety professionals real-time situational awareness and the ability to transmit information back and forth from their emergency ops center to their command center, he said.

THOR was built using direct feedback from the U.S. Department of Defense on the technology officials want and need to be effective out in the field, Davis said. “This wasn’t ‘Verizon thinks this would be cool,’ it was a joint effort” with several law enforcement agencies, he said.

“This fits well into our overall mission to support public safety,” Davis added. “THOR is ready to go where public safety professionals are and meet agencies where they need us most.”

Officials can use the THOR vehicle to do virtual reality and augmented reality training before a first responder goes into a disaster area, due to its bandwidth and low-latency capabilities, Davis said.

THOR was launched in late June at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. The prototype vehicle will complement hundreds of mobile assets Verizon deploys during weather events that provide 4G LTE connectivity for first responders, he said. Right now, there are no plans to build another vehicle, Davis said.

THOR was built on a modified Ford F650 chassis and has a six-seat cab and three-seat rear command center. It can provide its own mobile network, and also features capabilities ranging from commercial satellite options to the ability to be operated remotely from a tablet, Verizon said. 

The vehicle has the ability to pull in drone footage as well as all types of video feeds and is fully interoperable to work with other response agencies in a disaster area.

“The other cool thing about THOR is it has a drone launchpad,” Davis said. “It can launch a drone to provide situational awareness or additional connectivity where essentially, it’s a flying cell on wheels.”

A drone can fly over a fire line and provide situational awareness before fire crews make their way to base camps, so they have as much intelligence in real-time to make smart decisions before going into a blaze, he said.

This is critical when network connections fail and infrastructure is damaged during earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters, Davis said.

THOR is able to integrate with commercial drone applications, Verizon said.

Another Verizon emergency asset, “Big Red,” has been deployed at the Surfside building that collapsed in Florida in June. Big Red is a large mobile command center that has 24 workstations, each with a VoIP phone, data connection, Chromebook and power outlets that people can use in a disaster situation.

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