Students design smart device to aid search and rescue in sea mishaps

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014


THE number of naval tragedies and accidents at sea in recent years underscore the need for new and modern interventions that will aid in search and rescue operations.

A team of students from the Batangas State University (BatStateU) saw the urgency in addressing the need especially because many parts of Batangas are coastal communities.

And due to its proximity to the sea, fishing is a main contributor to the province’s economy.

The Batangas Port is also a preferred gateway to MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) by the general public.

“We want this to be more than just a project submission for the SWEEP Awards. We want to come up with something that actually finds solution to an existing problem,” says Leandro B. Miñon, who is the team leader.

This is why the team came up with the Aquarius Smart Beacon Bracelet and submitted it as an entry to the 10th SWEEP Innovation and Excellence Awards that is being mounted annually by Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) under the Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program (SWEEP). Aquarius bested over a hundred entries, placing 2nd runner-up.

The Aquarius Smart Beacon Bracelet is a GPS (Global Positioning System) and GSM (Global Mobile System for Mobile Communications) waterproof, wearable device that can be used to track victims in cases of sea mishaps or accidents. It is automatically triggered when submerged in water. It also has a push button and mobile application for manual activation.

Upon activation, an SOS text message will be sent out to the number programmed in the device such as the ship owner or maritime authorities.

The text message contains the information about the device’s location, which will also be plotted in the Aquarius app.

“Our target users are the passengers of a ship or ferry, with passengers wearing this device until they safely arrive at their destination. With the device, the coast guard or rescuers will now have the technology to help them locate every missing person effectively and efficiently during sea accidents,” says Miñon.

Using technology to save lives

As a requirement for one of their subjects, the students of BatStateU were asked to come up with proposals for the annual SWEEP Awards where the school has been a regular participant.

In fact, it fielded a total of nine entries for the 10th SWEEP Awards, two of which made it to the top three.

Smart Eco Reward, another entry from the university, was 1st runner-up.

Nica Andrea Marquez, who is the group’s key researcher, came up with the idea on the device.

“We started at the idea of a GPS device that can be used by everyone. But it has to be very useful, and we thought what about a device to help save people’s lives?” says Marquez.

“The substantial number of unaccounted for passengers has always been a problem in maritime accidents. We want to contribute in solving this problem through Aquarius,” adds Marquez.

Faculty mentor, Engr. Janice Peralta, says when students have submitted their proposals for SWEEP, one of those that stood out was Aquarius—the concept was interesting and at the same time, it would be quite challenging to develop the prototype for the proposed device.

To see if the concept will work, the team initially placed a mobile phone inside a sealed plastic bag and submerged it in water.

The members were all relieved to see that there is still network signal even while the phone was submerged under sea water.

Miñon, who was team leader and presentor, programmed the device.

Marquez did the research on the hardware that was going to be used for the device and was tasked with making the prototype.

Raymond Chester Hernandez was in-charge of the development of the mobile app, as well as the video and PowerPoint presentations.

Kristoferson Tito was responsible for putting the device together, including the waterproof casing and ensuring all the electronic components work together.

To make the device wearable, the team had to look for the smallest components that are available in the market.

Some of the components they had to source from suppliers abroad.

One of the team’s unforgettable moments was when they finally tested the assembled device by submerging it in water.

The team did not know the waterproof casing had a minuscule hole and so all the electronic components got wet.

“We nearly lost hope because there is no way we can possibly have a replacement device on time. We quickly disassembled the device, blew dry every piece and component, and just like a miracle, our device still works,” says Miñon.

“SWEEP gave us a whole new view of what we can accomplish. It gave us the confidence to express our ideas without being scared of what others would think. It taught us the essence of team work and making new friends,” adds Miñon.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 22, 2014.

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