Science Scope

Badgers to the rescue

Posting in Technology

How technology used to track badgers could help save victims of natural disasters.

It isn't often that rescuers say "if only I had a badger tracking device." But perhaps that's just what they need. A new company is using the same technology that scientists use to track badgers, to locate people.

The project started when two computer scientists - Andrew Markham and Niki Trigoni - went underground to look for badgers. They quickly discovered that the conventional GPS tracking technology was useless underground. So they developed a radio based system using low frequency fields. These fields can move through rock, soil, concrete, and all sorts of other obstacles. The fields themselves aren't new, people have used them since the early days of radio. But no one has ever used them to figure out positioning.

The "very low frequency fields just pass through obstacles as if they aren't there" Markham, told Wired UK. Because of this, "you don't need line of sight with a transmitter in order to work out where you are" he said. Using GPS or Wifi technology traditionally requires several transmitters to triangulate your position. This low frequency technology needs just one.

But tracking badgers was just the beginning. Markham and his partner Niki Trigoni soon realized the potential for this tracking mechanism in situations like natural disasters and emergencies. During the 2005 London bombings, it was very difficult to locate people using GPS or Wifi. This device could potentially find victims faster and more accurately.

Markham and Trigoni think that their work is new enough, and useful enough, to catch on quickly. They told Wired UK "It has a very good momentum," and, "like us, people recognise the potential." Markham believes that in just four years "we will have smartphones manufactured with our technology," Markham told the magazine. "We think it is achievable."

My question is whether there will be an app to track badgers with my phone. Because if so, I'm in.

Via: Wired UK
Image: USFWS Mountain Prairie

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Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure