Category Archives: Drones

Urban X-Rays: Wi-Fi for Spatial Scanning

Many of us in cities increasingly depend on Wi-Fi connectivity for communication as we go about our every day lives. However, beyond providing for our mobile and wireless communication needs, the intentional or directed use of Wi-Fi also provides new possibilities for urban sensing.

In this video professor Yasamin Mostofi from the University of California discusses research into the scanning or x-ray of built structures using a combination of drones and Wi-Fi transceivers. By transmitting a Wi-Fi signal from a drone on one side of a structure, and using a drone on the opposite side to receive and measure the strength of that signal it is possible to build up a 3D image of the structure and its contents. This methodology has great potential in areas like structural monitoring for the built environment, archaeological surveying, and even emergency response as outlined on the 3D Through-Wall Imaging project page.

Particularly with regard to emergency response one can easily imagine the value of being able to identify people trapped or hiding within a structure. Indeed Mostofi’s group are have also researched the potential these techniques provide for monitoring of humans in their Head Counting with WiFI project as demonstrated with the next video.

What is striking is that this technique enables individuals to be counted without themselves needing a Wi-Fi enabled device. Several potential uses are proposed which are particularly relevant to urban environments:

For instance, heating and cooling of a building can be better optimized based on learning the concentration of the people over the building. Emergency evacuation can also benefit from an estimation of the level of occupancy. Finally, stores can benefit from counting the number of shoppers for better business planning.

Given that WiFi networks are available in many buildings, we envision that they can provide a new way for occupancy estimation, in addition to cameras and other sensing mechanisms. In particular, its potential for counting behind walls can be a nice complement to existing vision-based methods.

I’m fascinated by the way experiments like this reveal the hidden potentials already latent within many of our cities. The roll out of citywide Wi-Fi infrastructure provides the material support for an otherwise invisible electromagnetic environment designers Dunne & Raby have called ‘Hertzian Space’. By finding new ways to sense the dynamics of this space, cities can tap in to these resources and exploit new potentialities, hopefully for the benefit of both the city and its inhabitants.

Thanks to Geo Awesomeness for posting the drone story here.


Drones for Participatory Planning with Flora Roumpani

In this recent video from AMD’s RADEON Creator series fellow CASA PhD candidate Flora Roumpani discusses her involvement in the UCL Development Planning Unit’s ReMap Lima project.

The project sought to map the favelas on the outskirts of Peru’s capital Lima in order to help the communities living there to better understand the planning challenges they face and more effectively participate in the informal local planning processes that tend rely on short term and hoc responses that risk creating new problems for every one solved.

The project involved flying drone’s over Lima and turning the captured data and imagery into digital maps and 3D models that could be used for further analysis and communication. By creating fly-through visualisations and 3D printed models that could be shared with the favela communities Flora helped them to better understand and respond to the problems they were facing.

Read more about Flora’s involvement here or checkout the ReMap Lima project blog here.

Royal Institution Coding Club: Drones and 3D Modelling

On Saturday the 5th of March the CASA Drone team and I ran workshops on drones and 3D modelling as part of the Royal Institution’s Coding Club for year 9 students.


The session began with an introduction by Flora and a discussion of the #drones4good movement and her previous collaboration with the ReMap Lima project where drones were used to map illegal land grabbing on the outskirts of the Peruvian capital.


Richard then introduced the workshop with a look at FPV quadcopter racing and went on to instruct the students in how to assemble the electronics in order to complete the wonderful 3D printed drone frames they had prepared specially for the event. Thanks there to our director Andy Hudson-Smith for his perseverance with the 3D printer!


After flying the drones we moved through to the computer room where I explained how 3D modelling formed a link between the 3D printed frames we had been using during the first part of the session and the kinds of 3D models used in movies, video games and virtual reality experiences that we would demonstrate in the second half. After a brief demonstration of SketchUp the students were able to start creating their own 3D models.

drones4good--3d-models-casa-masterclass_25487944691_o drones4good--3d-models-casa-masterclass_25487955571_o

To end the session Richard and I gave demonstrations of the drone simulator he had created in Unity and the CASA Virtual Reality Urban Roller Coaster I had made previously for Oculus Rift Unity game engine.


We had a fantastic morning. Additional thanks are due to Martin Austwick who facilitated on behalf of CASA and two CASA Master’s students Nathan Suberi and Anouchka Lettre who kindly volunteered to help out (first, second and third from the left in the pic below).


Finally a massive thanks to Elpida Makrygianni from the UCL Engineering who organised the event.

Further details of the event can be found on the CASA Drone team blog post here.  The full set of pictures from the workshop can be found here.