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Galileo-LawinenFon turns a smartphone into an avalanche transceiver

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February 3, 2014

The Galileo-SmartLVS hardware (prototype pictured) coupled with the LawinenFon app transfo...

The Galileo-SmartLVS hardware (prototype pictured) coupled with the LawinenFon app transforms a smartphone into an avalanche transceiver (Photo: Fraunhofer IML)

In October of last year, the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) issued a warning about the dangers of relying on smartphone apps that were being marketed as economical alternatives to avalanche transceivers. But a new smartphone app and add-on hardware component could provide an alternative that is not only cheaper than dedicated avalanche transceivers, but also provides additional functionality.

Unlike avalanche apps that rely on the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals emitted from a smartphone, as well as GPS, to help locate a buried avalanche victim, the Galileo-LawinenFon (lawinen is German for avalanche) system being developed by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) can provide greater accuracy thanks to a piece of hardware called Galileo-SmartLVS that connects to a smartphone via USB.

Packing a 3D magnetic field antenna for picking up signals, an analog-digital converter, a satellite navigation receiver, accelerometers and a reserve battery, the Galileo-SmartLVS turns a smartphone into an avalanche transceiver with the ability to draw on magnetic field signals and the combined signals of the USA's GPS, Europe's Galileo and Russia's GLONASS satellite positioning systems to pinpoint buried avalanche victims.

"Like commonly available avalanche transceivers, the Galileo-LawinenFon has a transmit and search mode," said Holger Schulz, a scientist at Fraunhofer IML. "Unlike previous transceivers however, when looking for victims the system is not restricted to the electromagnetic field formed by a transmitted signal but makes use of satellite signals as well. Since our solution draws on numerous available sensors and satellite systems, the signals transmitted by victims can be located with a great deal of precision. Magnetic field signals are processed in 3D so that we can pinpoint accident victims in a matter of seconds and improve their chances of survival."

Such pinpoint accuracy is a significant advantage over most basic devices that emit only an electromagnetic signal in "send" mode which then requires a search covering a semicircular area along the lines of this magnetic field to find the device. The technique to calculate the exact position of a buried person based on the signals captured by the Galileo-SmartLVS has already been patented by Fraunhofer and proTime, a company that partnered on the project along with Volmer Informationstechnik and the electrical engineering and IT department of Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences.

The system also includes the LawinenFon app that serves as the interface between the Galileo-SmartLVS hardware and the user. The app currently displays the distance and direction to the buried person on the smartphone screen, with the team planning to add the depth at which they are buried in the future. The device's reception range is currently limited to around 30 m (100 ft), but the researchers are working to extend this also.

"There is also the possibility of adding other useful functions to the app such as current snow and weather conditions," says Dipl.-Ing. Wolfgang Inninger, head of the IML project center. "These are extras that standard search devices simply don’t offer."

The researchers have successfully tested a prototype device that was able to locate a buried transceiver with centimeter accuracy and hope to have a commercial device on the market in the next two or three years.

Source: Fraunhofer

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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3 Comments

This sounds cool, and does represent an improvement in functionality, phones are several orders of magnitude less reliable than dedicated transceivers. Given that a typical phone rarely lasts more than a few hours with GPS on (let alone powering additional external devices), the chances of this actually working at a critical point is not great. I'm also unsure of how well GPS works when buried under a couple of metres of snow. In mountainous terrain the sky view is often restricted and GPS accuracy can suffer - and accuracy of less than a few metres is worse than what a normal transceiver will do without the reliability risk.

Come back when a phone lasts a week without a recharge, like they did 15 years ago!

Synchro
4th February, 2014 @ 12:04 am PST

This should be a stand alone hw unit that supports mobile interface. Relying on a mobile phone is foolhardy. Would you put that rig in a pillow sack, swing it around wildly, throw it into the couch and then wear it out in the field? I would not bet on my Lumia 925 doing too well in an avalanche, or a pillow sack.

Mayhem
4th February, 2014 @ 11:52 am PST

What is wrong with the existing app systems? They already give us a few cm accuracy, locating a victim within 2/3 min. With a range which is similar to most beacons. besides that they don't need additional hardware. Which is essential to the concept.  The CAC you are referring to,never tested them. the report is one big assumption. The system works anytime any place. Try and test it yourself. We keep on devoloping and we invite everyone to participate with ideas to improve it.

Martijn Strijbos, co-developer of the avalanche buddy system.

Facebook User
6th February, 2014 @ 12:31 pm PST
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