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Technology for locating injured people in areas without mobile phone coverage (rescue in high mountain)

Country of Origin: Spain
Reference Number: TOES20171006002
Publication Date: 6 October 2017


A Spanish university has developed a technology that allows the use of a smartphone to locate people injured in remote environments where there is no mobile phone coverage. The smartphone emits a Wi-Fi signal that acts as a distress beacon and can reach a long distance.
This technology is specially suitable when the injured cannot ask for help using mobile phone networks and where speed in the rescue is vital (e.g., rescue in high mountain). Companies for license agreements are sought.


The current technologies for requesting assistance in recreational activities in nature are based on three technologies: mobile phone service, VHF (very high frequency) stations and satellite systems. Although the most widespread in use is the mobile phone service contacting with the emergency telephone number (112, 911,…).

A Spanish research group has developed a system that employs a smarthphone as a distress signal device. There are commercial applications (Apps) that are installed on smartphones and offer multiple functionalities for emergencies. Normally they can send distress signals in the event of an accident, both orally and through the App, informing the emergency services of the injured state.

These Apps are very useful since the majority of users take their smartphones when they are going to carry out activities in the nature. However, these signals depend on the availability of mobile phone coverage.

Although mobile phone coverage is widely extended, there are places where it is not available because it is located far from the communications infrastructure. It is in these areas where the technology developed has great potential.

In geographical areas where there is no coverage of the mobile phone service, the citizen does not have the possibility to establish any contact to request help with his smartphone.

However, it is possible, with the technology developed, to give any smartphone the ability to generate a distress signal. This signal informs the GNSS (GPS / Glonass / Galileo) location and is detectable several kilometers away.

The technology developed consists of two fundamental elements, the software (App) incorporated in the emitting smartphone and a receiving device designed to receive and interpret the signal.

The smartphone must be equipped with a GNSS receiver and a Wi-Fi interface, elements found in almost all smartphones on the market. In addition, it must have installed an App, specifically designed by the Spanish researchers, that emits the distress signal detectable by the receiving device. The developed App can be used by any smartphone that owns the Android operating system. Also, the App could be developed for other operating systems.

The receiving device used by rescue teams or mountain refuges, allows the signal to be detected several kilometers away, depending on the terrain orographic conditions and the physical characteristics of its antenna. The device has a small antenna and it connects to the rescuer's smartphone where the received signals are displayed.

When an incident occurs, the injured person only has to activate the App of the smartphone that will emit the signal periodically indicating the coordinates of his position.

Rescue teams equipped with the portable receiving device will perform their search operations with the advantage that they do not need to have visual contact with the injured person. At the moment they can detect a single signal, that will indicate the exact position of the injured, even if it is several kilometers away.

This technology can be applied in rescue operations, mainly in high mountain. It benefits both mountain users and rescue teams. And commercially, the technology can be interesting for enterprises that offer mountain equipment or electronic devices.

The University is looking for companies interested in licensing agreements for this technology, which would include the mobile app, the receiving devices' software and the know-how necessary to carry out operations by rescue teams, hardware recommended,and so on. If it was necessary the research group could adapt the technology to user requests.


Advantages and Innovations

The main advantages of the technology are:

• Users do not need to purchase a specific device to emit a distress signal. Any smartphone that incorporates the App can emit the signal.
• The receiving devices of rescue teams have a low cost.
• The weight of the receiving devices is also very low. They can be carried in a backpack.
• No mobile phone coverage is required.
• The signal can be emitted for hours or even days. It can be disabled the rest of services on the smartphone to save battery, increasing the duration of the signal.
• The signal can be configured, incorporating relevant data such as the GPS coordinates of the accident, the identification of the person or a small message about the type of accident.
• The signal can be detected from long distances, depending on the orography of the place from which it is emitted. In recent mountain tests the signal was detected about 3 kilometers away.
• It allows the injured to continue transmitting a distress signal even if he/she has lost consciousness.
• In situations of bad weather conditions (blizzard, fog) or night time, it is possible to locate the wounded with great precision, without having to make eye contact.
• The system helps rescue teams, saving time and costs in rescue operations, and focusing on tracking in more specific areas.

In short, in extreme cases, it increases the chances of survival of the injured.

Stage Of Development

Field tested/evaluated

Stage Of Development Comment

The technology has been tested in high mountain simulating real cases with rescue teams. The tests performed have been very satisfactory, locating the injured in different locations, in a very short time. Those responsible for the rescue teams have been interested in being able to pilot tests in real conditions with hikers.

Requested partner

Type of partner sought: Computer and telecommunications companies operating in the indicated areas or companies that develop equipment for mountain sports.

Specific area of activity of the partner: Mountain services, adventure sports, rescue services, electronic devices, telecommunications,…

Task to be performed: Acquisition of the technology through licensing agreement.

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