In this age of technology and science what is the one thing that you always keep with yourself? Yes, your smartphone that is mostly connected to Internet via some means. The reason being that this gadget has become such a crucial everyday item that you can’t afford going out without it. You may forget to pick up your ID card, but the phone? There’s no chance you will leave it before leaving home or office. This is what led to the project at EPFL’s Mobile Communications Laboratory that is trying to come up with an approach to make use of this pattern.
The end result is a drone that is capable of searching for persons who have been in a crisis via their smartphones to facilitate the rescuers who are working during or after a disaster. The idea is simple enough and makes use of the trend that we discussed in the opening paragraph of this post. Your smartphone is capable of emitting data packets at regular intervals when the Wi-Fi is switched on and the strength of these signals vary based upon a number of factors; terrain, weather, interference or if the device is under rubble following the occurrence of an earthquake.
Tracking these signals while catering to all these variables is not possible from a single position and if you must track then you need to capture the signal from a number of different positions in order to pinpoint the precise location – approximate location, notice how we didn’t use the word ‘accurate’? Yeah, language! – Of the device. This is where the drone flies in to save the day. The drone being employed for the project is senseFly eBee UAV that has a Wi-Fi antenna attached to it. This assembly makes it possible for the drone to capture the signals from device(s) while it flies between different points in order to map the location of the device and the user (hopefully) somewhat accurately.
Cheseaux worked on this project during his Master’s degree and states that by incorporating the function of automatically eliminating weaker signals from the calculations resulted in enhancing the accuracy of the system and the drone was able to locate mobile phones on the EPFL campus with a higher degree of precision and accuracy. Cheseaux is an amateur mountaineer and says; ‘in the best tests we have performed, the place indicated was within 10 m (33 ft. The drone’s Wi-Fi antenna could be replaced by Avalanche Victim Detectors (DVA) which would enable the rapid and inexpensive deployment of the first avalanche searches.’
The project also covered the developing of an interface that will be capable of allowing those on the ground to track the drone in real-time and see the detected mobile phones on the computer display as colored dots while the drone flies around and maps the location with more precision.