The next time you visit Hong Kong, don’t be too surprised if you find miniature drones roaming about your hotel lobby. That’s part of a plan by researchers from the local public research university to combat one of the biggest impediments to tourism in the modern era and urban life as a whole: Poor Wi-Fi.
You’ve no doubt encountered the phenomenon if you ever spent any time on your smartphone at the neighborhood coffee shop, where the strength of the signal can vary wildly depending on the proximity of the router. The issue is a tangle of cost constraints and geometric discrepancies that becomes an even bigger problem in larger establishments, which have the means to buy as many wireless endpoints as the need but are often still struggle with blind spots due to the sheer size of their premises.
The recently published filing in which the new drone system made its debut lays out the full details of how the researchers plan to address that challenge. The centerpiece of the project is a specially developed application light enough to be installed on a technician’s laptop that serves a sort of nerve center for the quadcopters out in the field. Each carries a custom sensory kit for surveying indoor environments that doubles to prevent collisions with any unsuspecting tourists who might be in the way.
The location data from the drones is synchronized back to the laptop where the application puts together a map of the building that is being charted and adjusts the flight paths whenever the incoming information reveals an opportunity to speed up the work. Once that’s done, wireless signal measurements collected along the way are overlaid on the map and distilled into recommendations about where to put routers and how to configure them for optimal coverage.
The system presents an attractive alternative to the traditional way floor planners handled that task, which involved hiring an expensive networking specialist or dozen to perform the survey by hand. That is not only costly and time-consuming but also less reliable since even the most well-trained human is bound to overlook something when dealing with a large building’s worth of telemetry measurements. As a result, drones may become a normal part of urban life much sooner than we previously expected.