Where no WLAN has gone before

by Doug Page

Police, firefighters and other emergency workers responding to natural or manmade disasters may one day have a new device to help with emergency management and victim rescue, thanks to a college kid in San Diego.

Javier Rodriguez Molina, an electrical engineering graduate student and programmer analyst at the University of California – San Diego's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, has developed an advanced mobile wireless communications gadget, named Gizmo, that provides an adaptable platform that can be changed depending on the scenario.

Gizmo looks more like a remote controlled toy monster truck, but it may eventually transform disaster response by collecting and transmitting in real time any information that emergency personnel need, via any communications system they happen to be using.

Gizmo designer Javier Rodriguez Molina, above, said the device could be used by SWAT teams, bomb squads, firefighters, patrol and surveillance agencies, and in other public safety scenarios.

"Gizmo allows immediate audio and video communication, as well as sensor data acquisition in areas where wireless communication is nonexistent or poor," Molina said. Gizmo can act as a client to a network or extend a pre-existing network by acting as an access point.

Molina has plans to build a number of Gizmo varieties. The devices could go anywhere that's too dangerous for rescuers, including urban emergencies such as hostage situations, terrorism scenes or building collapses.

The current Gizmo is less than two feet long, but future models may be much smaller or much larger. Smaller versions could enter a hostage situation without being detected, whereas larger units, such as a full-sized truck, could penetrate disaster situations even in the harshest conditions, such as a hurricane.

What makes Gizmo unique is its payload, which currently includes multi-radio control options: cell phone, laptop, Bluetooth, WiFi, 27 MHZ, 75 MHZ, and, coming soon, 900 MHZ, 700 MHZ, and ZigBee. It also has mobile mesh network capabilities.

The number and the type of features which can be added depends purely on the applications for which it will be used. Molina told Homeland1 that with its dynamic sensor platform, Gizmo is reconfigurable for just about any emergency incident.

"Gizmo can be suited up and reconfigured with different sensors very quickly," he said.

Molina said Gizmo could be used by SWAT teams, bomb squads, firefighters, patrol and surveillance agencies, and in other public safety scenarios.

"The sky's the limit on how and who will be able to use it," he said. "In fact, we're currently developing a flying analogue to Gizmo."

Douglas Page is a science and technology columnist for Homeland1.com

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