Mountain Rescue UAVs, E911 & Triangulation

Posted by Sam Churchill on

The Oregonian has recent developments on the three lost hikers on Oregon’s Mt Hood. Hiker, Kelly James, placed a cell phone call to his family Sunday and told them he was worried about the worsening weather Now James is thought to have sought shelter in a snow cave at about the 10,000-foot level of the 11,235-foot peak.

Companion climbers, Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke may have attempted a descent and an all out rescue effort on the socked in Mountain is now underway.

The National Guard’s 1042nd Air Ambulance Company, based in Salem, is being utilized and participated in the search this month for the Kim family earlier this month.

The 939th Rescue Wing, operating out of the Portland Air Base, was converted to an air refueling wing in April 2003. Its HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, equipped for combat search and rescue, were shipped to Florida. That left the National Guard’s 1042nd as the only military helicopter unit available to help on search and rescue missions in Oregon and southern Washington.

Authorities were able to track multiple pings on James’ phone and estimate the signal came from an area near: Lattitude: 45.285537, Longitude: 121.619467.

In cooperation with the authorities, T-Mobile has been “pinging” James’ phone, and a confirming ping was still coming back up until today.

Now North Carolina-based Iomax Management Group is bringing in a phone-locating kit that can get much closer. “Under ideal conditions, which we hope to be in up there, we’re talking 10 or 20 meters,” Iomax’s president, Ron Howard. Wikipedia has more on triangulation and Enhanced-911 (see: FCC’s Enhanced 911 rules).

Portland Mountain Rescue has more than a dozen searchers involved on the ongoing search. Even though searchers have not yet located the three climbers, experts familiar with such circumstances said the outlook is not as grim as it might seem.

Brian Wheeler, founder of the Northwest School of Survival, said the men must stay hydrated and out of the weather. “If they got out of the weather, they could be fine for another week ahead,” Wheeler said.

Specially-configured C-130s have been brought in, equipped with an advanced surveillance system called Scathe View, a real-time electro-optical and infra-red camera. They’re assigned to the 152nd Airlift Wing of the Navada Air National Guard. Images are down-linked to stations on the ground for instant analysis.

Robot drones are another new technology being used in the rescue.

Alliance for Robot-Assisted Crisis Assessment and Response hoped to launch several drones this afternoon from Cloud Cap campground, at about 6,000 feet although they were grounded to due bad weather. The remote-control flying drones are equipped with visual and heat-seeking cameras.

John Blitch, a retired lieutenant colonel, educated at West Point and the Colorado School of Mines, founded the Alliance for Robot-Assisted Crisis Assessment and Recovery, or ARACAR, and volunteered to bring five drones and two employees to the Mount Hood search after officials with the National Guard and other search groups called him, Harker said.

The alliance, which has five employees and also draws on volunteers, is supported in part by the robotics industry, she said. ARACAR does not build robots. They deploy teams and are the operators.

As vice president and director for Science Applications International Corp.’s (SAIC) Center for Intelligent Robotics and Unmanned Systems (CIRUS) in Colorado, Blitch established the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) on September 1, 2001.

After the WTC attacks, Blitch donated more than $20,000 of his savings for support equipment, and for the rescue teams’ travel and expenses. He also contributed funds to the American Association of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and RoboCup Rescue robot competitions to encourage researchers in the field.

ARACAR uses a Tactical Mini UAV (TACMAV) system, operating with special forces. It contains two CCD cameras and a video transmitter. The user can select forward or side looking camera. 15 frame “snapshots” can be used to recorded target of interest.

The battery operated vehicle has an endurance of 30-50 minutes, using rechargeable lithium polymer cells.

It uses flexible wings made of nylon which can be folded around its carbon fiber body, allowing the entire UAV to be stored in a 22 inch-long, five-inch diameter tube

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CLOSE RANGE UAVs and SHORT RANGE UAVs) have helped monitor forest fires, and analyzed volcanic plumes. Their small, backpack size airplanes include Pointer, Raven, Dragon Eye, Swift, Puma and Wasp solutions. Northrop Grumman’s control system controls a network of small, low-flying UAVs to send video images in real time to individual warfighters with handheld computers.

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), the Silver Fox, from Advanced Ceramics Research was deployed to monitor seismic activity at Mt. St. Helens recently.

The Marine’s Dragon Eye (above) is nearly indistinguishable from a model airplane. But it’s $70,000.

In related news, Lockheed Martin has conducted a successful series of tests of a new centralized controller for unmanned air and ground vehicles. During these tests, Lockheed Martin demonstrated control of four different unmanned systems from one centralized control device. A touch screen laptop computer with a customized hand controller allows users to control multiple systems via a hand controller and a touch screen.

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle tested included Honeywell’s Micro Air Vehicle Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV); Lockheed Martin’s Silver Fox UAV and Roll Based Operations Architecture (RBOA) robot; and a Lockheed Martin Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) demonstrator. Lockheed Martin is currently experimenting with control of the iRobot Corporation’s PackBot from the same centralized controller.

DARPA’s Organic Air Vehicle program (OAV-II), is developing UAVs to support small military groups conducting tactical missions.

The Future Combat Systems is used to network UAVs. Four size classes of UAVs are now being trimmed down to two; just the tiniest and the largest will remain. There will still be other robotic planes in the Army’s arsenal — the hand-held Ravens, the Shadows, and the big, high-flying, Warriors.

Microsoft Robotics Studio, is a Windows-based software platform designed to make it relatively simple to program robots–real or simulated. Compatible with several different pieces of hardware, like iRobot’s Roomba or LEGO Mindstorms NXT “tribot,” the software lets enterprising gadget hounds command a device to communicate, send alerts or perform scheduled tasks. C

The software is free for hobbyists or researchers, but companies aiming to profit from its use must license a commercial version for $399.

Microsoft Robotics Studio is now compatible with CoroWare, fischertechnik, iRobot, KUKA Robot Group, Larsen & Toubro InfoTech, the LEGO Group, Lynxmotion, Parallax, Phidgets, RoboDynamics, Robosoft, RoboticsConnection, Senseta, Sharp Logic, Surveyor and WhiteBox Robotics. In addition, many leading companies have joined the Partner Program with plans to ship compatible applications, services and robots in the future. They include Braintech, InTouch Health, JADI Inc., LG CNS, MicroInfinity, , Mostitech, RidgeSoft, Robo3, SRI, VIA Technologies and Yujin Robot.

More information on UAVs is available at UAV News, UAV Center, the UAV Forum, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Blog, Defense Review, Aerovironment, FireScout Helicopter, Micropilot, NASA’s UAV Site, UV-Online, the Paris-based Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and the UAV Concept Of Operations.

O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase, used triangulation to locate his white Bronco speeding down the Los Angeles Freeway. Here’s some court testimony

BRUCE SCHNEIER, SECURITY EXPERT, COUNTERPANE: The cell phone network is tracking you whenever your phone is on. Whether there is a human being receiving some data, saying where your phone is, you have no idea, because the phone company has that data. And it is what they’re doing with it afterwards.

SIEBERG: Authorities must have a court’s permission to track anyone through cell phone locations. But once that access is granted, it’s nearly fool-proof. (on camera): So, how exactly does it work? Well, here’s the easiest way to think of cell phone tracking. In order to make or receive a call on your cell phone, your wireless provider has to know where you are.

You see this flashing little light up here? You can think of that as your personal locator beacon. In a sense, it’s communicating with the cell towers that are all around you all the time, as you move around. And they can find you a few different ways.

SCHNEIER: Well, the cell phone always has to know what cell it is in. Otherwise, it can’t send phone calls. Your average phone, when it’s walking around, is in view of two or three different cells. And what the phone company can do — and this is very easy — is to compare relative signal strengths and figure out where the phone is, probably to a couple of hundred feet. They triangulate from the radio signal.

The third thing is satellite positioning system. And phones that are equipped with that system can be pinpointed within a few feet.

In the late 1990s, the FCC created wireless Enhanced 911 rules (Wikipedia on 911) that require cell phone providers to report the telephone number of a wireless 911 caller, the location of the antenna that received the call and information about the signal’s location to within 50 to 300 meters. The main problem in getting E911 in place is individual States which have taken the 911 fees paid by consumers and used the money for other purposes. Enhanced 911 (E911) automatically associates a physical address or location with the calling party’s telephone number.

Cingular Wireless is extending its partnership with TruePosition across its network nationwide. The TruePosition Finder location system will now cover the former AT&T Wireless territories, which were previously covered by an AT&T Wireless location system.

The Uplink Time Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA) method calculates the location of a handset by using the difference in time of arrival of signals. It uses multiple (3 or more) receivers to locate a phone with accuracy under 50 meters, according to True Postion. It will assist Cingular in its efforts to continue to meet the FCC’s E-911 location mandate.

C/Net says cell phone coverage holes hurt public safety, according to the Rural Cellular Association. Phase II E-911 can locate calls to within a general range of 50 to 300 meters. The deadline for Phase II implementation was to be December 31, 2005, but Phase II, implementation was been delayed because some states have used E911 fees for other purposes. Four states have zero capability with 5 others having less than 10% coverage. This means that less than 60% of the country’s total population is covered, says the CTIA.

VoIP 911, because it uses the internet for phone traffic, is less straightforward.

Vonage, today announced that over 93% of its U.S. subscriber lines are now equipped with Enhanced 911 (E911) service which associates a physical address with the calling party’s telephone number.

A Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), or 911 center, is connected through a dedicated 911 network infrastructure so a customer’s call is automatically routed to the appropriate 911 center, with the caller’s registered street address and telephone number appearing on the dispatcher screen. State 911 Deployment Plans can differ.

According to Wikipedia; TDMA and GSM networks such as Cingular and T-Mobile use time difference of arrival (TDOA) while CDMA networks such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS tend to use handset-based radiolocation technologies, like GPS.

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In rural networks, where cell sites can be widely separated, accuracy error without GPS can range to several kilometers. GPS phones, on the other hand, need to fix on 4 satellites and have enough processing power to transform that data into a position.

Hybrid solutions, utilize both the handset and the network. They include; Assisted GPS (wireless or TV) that allow use of GPS even indoors, Advanced Forward Link Trilateration (A-FLT) which is unique to CDMA networks, measuring the phase delay between signals, Timing Advance/Network Measurement Report (TA/NMR) and Enhanced Observed Time Difference (E-OTD) which can be used with GSM networks like Cingular and T-Mobile. Technologies like E-OTD, TA/NMR, and U-TDOA all work fine with older phones.

Assisted GPS (A-GPS) can take a snapshot of GPS signals and transmit them directly to a server-based system that performs the necessary calculations. A-GPS, it is claimed, can result in faster, more reliable location-based services using relatively inexpensive (CDMA) handsets.

AOA, or Angle of Arrival, requires the installation of a location measurement unit (LMU) at each AOA-equipped base station site, as well as special direction-sensing antennas. It measures the difference in received phase at each element in the antenna array. AOA is generally deployed only in limited, challenging circumstances like mountainous areas with sparse base station and challenging site-to-site geometry.

The FCC estimates that of the 200 million calls made to 911 each year, about a third of them are from callers using a mobile phone with over half placed from cell phones in rural areas.

SOURCE: CTIA, September 2006
Wireless Subscribers at Mid-Year 2006 219.4 million U.S. Subscribers
Wireless Penetration More than 72 percent of total U.S. population
Wireless-Only Households1 8.4 percent of U.S. Households
Wireless Providers About 180 facilities based carriers
Cell Sites 197,576
E 9-1-1 Calls More than 240,000 a day

The National Emergency Numbering Association (NENA) has more on 9-1-1 and Your Wireless Phone.

Related DailyWireless stories include, Cellular Triangulation, VoIP Gets 911 Extension, VoIP E-911 Rush?, 211, 311, 411, 511 & 911, Tracking Individuals, Location, location, location, Rescue By Cell Triangulation E-911: Seeking a Location, Satellite Tracking, Location By Triangulation – Not, Tracking Bryon, 24hr UAV Coverage, Wireless Recon Airplanes, HDTV from aircraft, UAVs Expand Roles and Micro Air Vehicles.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, December 13th, 2006 at 7:19 pm .

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