December 19, 2007 It may look like just another remote-controlled toy truck, but this "Gizmo" has the potential to save lives in disaster response situations. Javier Rodriguez Molina, a 24 year old electrical engineering graduate student and programmer analyst at the UC San Diego's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), is designing an advanced mobile, wireless communications machine that can venture into environments too dangerous for humans and collect and transmit critical information to emergency personnel. It is hoped that the design platform - which is will not be limited to its current toy-truck guise - can provide real-time assistance in emergency situations such as terrorist attacks, building collapses or hurricanes.
The Gizmo will communicate via wireless network connection with any number of communication devices including cell phones, laptops, Bluetooth and wireless emergency communications systems. If one communications system fails, emergency personnel will be able to simply switch to another. It will be controlled by cell phone, laptop or a gaming joystick hooked to a computer. The Gizmo can communicate through walls or other obstructions and will be custom-built with high-definition cameras, sensors to detect radiation or intense heat, or even a remote-controlled arm for collecting samples.
Under the guidance of Ramesh Rao, an internationally recognized expert in emergency technology and director of Calit2, Rodriguez and his team of engineering undergraduates are also developing Gizmos which create their own wireless network bubble. One Gizmo can create a wireless network 200 meters in diameter but several working together can create a much larger network.
The prototype Gizmo is the size of a remote-controlled toy truck but Rodriguez plans to build a variety of Gizmos, a small Gizmo could go undetected in a hostage situation, a truck-size Gizmo could be used in extreme emergencies such as a hurricane or forest fire. And Rodriguez’s vision does not stop there - he also plans to develop a flying Gizmo.
"Using technology to try to save lives is the most important thing for me now," Rodriguez said. "I'm taking part in work that can make people more secure by helping police, helping firefighters, helping anybody who is responding to a dangerous situation."
A Gizmo with tank treads to go up stairs or on rocky surfaces is already on the production line and Rodriguez imagines it at situations such as underground cave-ins or routine security patrols. At around US $1000, the possibilities for this potential life-saver are endless, "People see Gizmo and immediately think of a new idea for what it can do," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure it has important uses that we haven't even thought of yet."