Saving Lives after a Natural Disaster

21 October 2021

Katrina, Fukushima, Hurricane Maria, Sumatra – names synonymous with major natural disasters that claimed the lives of many. In the aftermath of a state of emergency caused by events such as an earthquake, hurricane, or wildfire, the first responders’ priority is to locate victims as quickly as possible to decrease the loss of life. A valuable signature that helps rescue teams rapidly pinpoint the location of survivors are cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth beacons emitted by smartphones. Based on the assumption that most people tend to always carry their smartphones with them, a common rescue team technique is to look for that beacon and when detected, it can then be used to locate missing people. In cases where infrastructure such as cell phone towers are rendered inoperative, finding survivors, especially if buried under collapsed structures, can be extremely challenging and time-consuming.

A solution to infrastructure collapse includes building a system that does beacon detection, data filtering, and GPS mapping. Once built, the system is field deployed so it can canvas an area for unique beacon signals within an impacted area. Such a system can be mounted in a helicopter, Humvee, boat, or drone.

To build a system, an RFSoC solution, such as the VP431, is used as the foundational building block. If disaster strikes an urban area, the system could potentially be dealing with tens of thousands of simultaneous beacons, and RFSoC's are ideally suited to capture and process the signal traffic and provide first responders with actionable data to plan their rescue. Given the conditions on the ground after a natural disaster, the potential magnitude of cell phone ping signals in an urban area, and the processing required to filter the signals to present viable spots for search teams to investigate, it is much more efficient to perform the computing “at the edge”. RFSoCs can handle multiple simultaneous processing streams of data in parallel, are scalable and upgradable depending on the unique needs of the search team, and leverage an open-source and open standards software framework, making the solution accessible to anyone and quickly tailorable to the application and specific regional needs and purposes (i.e., lost at sea, military, warehouse management through RFID, etc.)

Deploying this system from the lab and into harsh environments that search and rescue teams generally encounter after a natural disaster requires ruggedized equipment to survive extreme hot and cold temperatures, along with shock and vibration for consistently reliable operation in this critical mission of saving lives. Abaco Systems has designed the VP431 RFSoC solution specifically to operate in these harsh environments to provide the performance demanded in critical missions. Built with Xilinx UltraScale Zynq and Virtex FPGAs, the VP431 is designed to MIL-STD to withstand environmental stresses while providing reliable operation. Developed in alignment with the SOSA™ Technical Standard in the industry-standard 3U VPX form factor, the VP431 can be mounted in mobile vehicles and takes up little space yet delivers high performance while providing ease of application programming to tailored requirements based on different situations. Additional VP431 units can be linked together for high-traffic urban settings, making it a scalable solution. Known for its commitment to long-product life cycles, Abaco will support the VP431 for many years while providing upgrade paths based on open standards and commercial off-the-shelf solutions.

Dinesh Jain

Dinesh is Senior Product Manager at Abaco Systems focusing on DSP products including FPGA and Sensor processing.  He has a passion for embedded system design and came to Abaco with a background in high-performance I/O connectivity solutions including Intel, where he worked with the Thunderbolt technology group. In his spare time he is a science fair mentor to high school students with the goal of motivating them to pursue STEM in college.