The only thing worse than no WiFi is slow WiFi. Many of us have experienced the frustrations of terrible internet connections. We have too, so we set out to create a tool to help users find the best place around to connect.

What it does

Our app runs in the background (completely quietly) and maps out the WiFi landscape of the world. That information is sent to a central server and combined with location and WiFi data from all users of the app. The server then processes the data and generates heatmaps of WiFi signal strength to send back to the end user. Because of our architecture these heatmaps are real time, updating dynamically as the WiFi strength changes.

How we built it

We split up the work into three parts: mobile, cloud, and visualization and had each member of our team work on a part. For the mobile component, we quickly built an MVP iOS app that could collect and push data to the server and iteratively improved our locationing methodology. For the cloud, we set up a Firebase Realtime Database (NoSQL) to allow for large amounts of data throughput. For the visualization, we took the points we received and used gaussian kernel density estimation to generate interpretable heatmaps.

Challenges we ran into

Engineering an algorithm to determine the location of the client was significantly more difficult than expected. Initially, we wanted to use accelerometer data, and use GPS as well to calibrate the data, but excessive noise in the resulting data prevented us from using it effectively and from proceeding with this approach. We ran into even more issues when we used a device with less accurate sensors like an Android phone.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are particularly proud of getting accurate paths travelled from the phones. We initially tried to use double integrator dynamics on top of oriented accelerometer readings, correcting for errors with GPS. However, we quickly realized that without prohibitively expensive filtering, the data from the accelerometer was useless and that GPS did not function well indoors due to the walls affecting the time-of-flight measurements. Instead, we used a built in pedometer framework to estimate distance travelled (this used a lot of advanced on-device signal processing) and combined this with the average heading (calculated using a magnetometer) to get meter-level accurate distances.

What we learned

Locationing is hard! Especially indoors or over short distances. Firebase’s realtime database was extremely easy to use and very performant Distributing the data processing between the server and client is a balance worth playing with

What's next for Hotspot

Next, we’d like to expand our work on the iOS side and create a sister application for Android (currently in the works). We’d also like to overlay our heatmap on Google maps.

There are also many interesting things you can do with a WiFi heatmap. Given some user settings, we could automatically switch from WiFi to data when the WiFi signal strength is about to get too poor. We could also use this app to find optimal placements for routers. Finally, we could use the application in disaster scenarios to on-the-fly compute areas with internet access still up or produce approximate population heatmaps.

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