What do you do when you can't reach emergency services during a natural disaster? From researching the communication failures of the 2020 bushfire season and its deadly aftermath and hearing about how our teammate's uncle living in a rural area couldn't get in contact with emergency services during a fire, we decided to come up with an effective solution to help those impacted by natural disasters. Approximately 1400 telecommunications facilities were impacted during the December and January 2019/20 bushfires (SBS News). Shocked by those figures we decided to make Skynet, a localised mesh network for natural disasters and emergencies.
What it does
Skynet is a quick, easy-to-deploy localized mesh network that allows for communication between authorities and those in need. Skynet uses a system of raspberry pis and weather balloons to create a mesh network that allows people to connect to. Once connected the phone will automatically open up a webpage where the user can receive information from authorities, share their location and have a line of communication to emergency services. This is all fed to a central hub, which is in the network with an operator who can respond and direct emergency services to locations that need help/rescuing.
How we built it
We first started working on the viability of the network, with some testing we were able to create a mesh network with raspberry pis that could cover 30+ metres in line of sight. We were able to successfully link and connect to the network and brought the concept to life by testing it in a park with helium-filled balloons. These helium-filled balloons were able to lift the device and its box up(modelled in Fusion360 and 3D-printed). Then, we started working on the User side creating a clean and basic UI that allows the user to easily access help with a focus on speed and reliability. We then also created a mock-up for a web page for the operator side that allows the operator to track help requests and their location.
Challenges we ran into
We ran into a few challenges throughout the hack, we faced some initial problems when flashing the raspberry pis and also didn't buy enough balloons to lift up the devices enough. The drone that we used to get all the footage was attacked by a swarm of bees as well! We also were all over the place at the start however after a while we pulled through and got it together. Producing what you see in the video and in GitHub.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Overall we are all very proud of what we've been able to achieve this hack. The video especially is a big one as I personally think it looks amazing! Overall as a team, we are proud of what we've been able to do and I hope you are equally as impressed.
What we learned
We learned a lot from this hack, a lot about networking and how to use/setup raspberry pis. This was also our first time using React and we learned about a lot of great resources that are available for use with react. However, I think the thing that we learned about most is the usefulness of a solution like this and how it is still needed and able to save lives in today's day and age. We were all shocked when we saw the numbers, and that's just for the bushfires in Australia! If we are able to deploy this solution worldwide we believe that we are able to make a real impact on emergency and natural disaster response times.
What's next for SkyNet
In the short term, we want to be able to create custom PCBs to lower the cost of the solution and make it more easily accessible. We would also like to implement Narrowband IoT nodes to get functions such as an automated text messaging service as well as implement backups and automated failovers in the case of a node failure.