North­eastern Uni­ver­sity student-​​researchers have cre­ated a roving robot named WiLU that may be able to locate and rescue vic­tims of nat­ural dis­as­ters or par­tic­i­pate in mil­i­tary mis­sions that are too dan­gerous for soldiers.

The inno­v­a­tive tech­nology was devel­oped for a senior cap­stone project under the direc­tion of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering pro­fessor Charles DiMarzio and asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, Gue­vara Noubir. The team mem­bers included elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering stu­dents Tom Bot­tiglieri, Spiros Mantza­vinos, Travis Taylor, Ryan Whelan and Eric Williams.

WiLU—which looks like a Tonka truck—could help save the lives of vic­tims of cat­a­strophic dis­as­ters, such as the mas­sive 9.0 earth­quake that rocked Japan in March, said Whelan.

As he put it, “You could send this robot into a search and rescue sce­nario where you don’t want humans to go.”

Noubir spon­sored the stu­dents and funded the project with a por­tion of the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) Major Research Instru­men­ta­tion grant awarded to him and an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of pro­fes­sors from North­eastern to develop wire­less sensor net­works that sup­port key appli­ca­tions such as search and rescue by swarms of robots.

He praised the student’s inno­v­a­tive robot. “It’s a great example of an effec­tive research plat­form that inte­grates multi-​​disciplinary exper­tise span­ning mechan­ical engi­neering, RF com­mu­ni­ca­tions, embedded soft­ware devel­op­ment, and algo­rithms designs.”

Stu­dents cre­ated a com­plex algo­rithm that would enable the robot to locate people—or even bombs that are det­o­nated through mobile phones.

Here’s how it works: a smart antenna mounted atop WiLU mea­sures the signal strength of a mobile phone that is con­nected to a wire­less net­work. Then, the robot autonomously deter­mines the loca­tion of the object by adap­tively forming beams to pin­point the direc­tion and loca­tion of the wire­less signal source.

Stu­dents, who say humans could also con­trol the robot from remote loca­tions, hope to create a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice whereby mobile phone users could auto­mat­i­cally join the WiFi network.

Incor­po­rating so many dif­ferent cre­ative and tech­nical skills on a single project is the goal of our Cap­stone Design course,” DiMarzio said.