The Loh Down On Science

Routing Disaster

Is that a Saint Bernard ... or a wireless router?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Computer scientists at Germany’s Technical University, Darmstadt, say that during disasters, private wireless routers could help save lives.

The researchers were exploring back-up communication systems for urban first-responders like police, fire, and rescue. These agencies have radio channels, sure. And cell phones.

But what if a disaster damages cell towers? Or callers overwhelm capacity?

Are private wireless routers abundant enough, and close enough together, to substitute?

To find out, the researchers cruised downtown Darmstadt, armed with GPS software and a smartphone app that scans for nearby Wi-Fi access. The programs enabled them to pinpoint each wireless router in Darmstadt’s urban core, without violating privacy.

Within two-tenths of a mile, they detected almost two-thousand routers, including several-hundred public unencrypted signals!

In fact, no location was more than one-hundred feet from a router.

The researchers suggest that cities develop router networks with a voluntary emergency “guest mode.”

I still prefer a Saint Bernard with a flask of brandy, but whatever works.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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