Burning Man Camp Proximity Sensors

A network of devices that sense proximity relative to each other and blink a light to help the camp locate other members on the playa

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Network of around 50 devices that can sense relative proximity to each and blink a light with a cadence commensurate to the distance of the next closest node (blinks faster the closer they get).

The idea is to create a game of serentipity where members of the camp can find one another when their path's cross throughout the week - particularly at night.

Range would need to be a few hundred yards radius and would like to use Arduino as our platform.

To solve the issue of multiple nodes traveling in packs we will program the network to treat devices within some inner radius of each other (20 ft or so) as one node.

Ideally would be as low tech as possible and not need to pair with our phone's GPS but haven't found good solution to get proximity from wirelessly connected devices alone.

Party Mode when more than 20 devices are within the inner radius of each other (light blinks like crazy and cycles through colors).

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Alex Netsch wrote 05/21/2018 at 21:10 point

@ðeshipu check this out:

Not sure their math is right on their +- error distance but if you get an accurate enough clock, you can calculate distance using the travel time of radio waves (call & response time). 

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ðeshipu wrote 05/21/2018 at 21:17 point

Nice, I didn't consider ToF for radio, but of course it would work the same as for light. But it's non-trivial to measure it that precisely.

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Alex Netsch wrote 05/21/2018 at 21:21 point

Yeah the issue is getting an accurate enough clock. I think even if you can plug a higher MHz clock crystal into an Arduino I'm not sure if their micro() time functions has enough need at least Nano. 

Also you'd have to add in processing time for each calculation to execute so probably not viable. 

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Alex Netsch wrote 05/21/2018 at 19:52 point

@Jorj Bauer thanks for you comment! Could we get RSSI accurate to 10 yrds or so and how subject is it to interference from stuff like giant metal sculptures, etc. Also if I buy one to test, should I go with 433MHz or 915Mhz? 

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Jorj Bauer wrote 05/21/2018 at 01:28 point

RFM69 nodes can tell you their RSSI. Use that instead of distance. On the playa there will be few obstructions anyway.

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ðeshipu wrote 05/20/2018 at 10:45 point

I see this so many times. People assume that measuring distance between two devices is such a simple and intuitive thing, that it surely must have a cheap dedicated sensor or other easy solution. But it doesn't. It's still one of the unsolved problems. If you find a robust, working solution for this, I would suggest you to patent it immediately, because it's been searched for for decades.

The most reliable way we have today is by using light. That ranges from laser time-of-flight sensors, such as the VL6180X and VL53L*X, visible light or infrared cameras, or even the reflective distance sensors, such as the SHARP GP* ones. Unfortunately that requires a line of sight between the devices, and orienting them towards each other. You can get very good results with a camera on the ceiling and markers — either fiducials or lights blinking a certain pattern — this is so far the most reliable positioning system we have.

Radio waves seem like a logical next step, but the ultra-short waves that are practical in such settings and give you enough of accuracy are greatly disturbed by obstacles, and in the close field don't propagate linearly, so you are going to have a lot of very surprising results. There have been some projects for visualizing the radio signals in 3D space, you can google for them and see how it looks like.

Sound is another approach, but it has similar problems to the radio waves, as it is getting reflected and distorted by obstacles. It can also disturb humans and animals, even if it's outside the hearing range, especially if you crank up the power. And it will probably not work in noisy environments anyways.

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Ted Yapo wrote 05/21/2018 at 02:11 point

I agree with much of these comments, but recommend that if you find a robust, working solution, you distribute the idea freely instead of patenting it :-)

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Thomas wrote 05/20/2018 at 04:57 point

I like the 2018 Burning Man theme "I Robot": finding the unexpected in automation. I like your idea of making something that creates opportunities for doing things together. It's automated, but it helps finding things it was not programmed to find: a serendipit-o-meter.

I can envision a that using the limited field of a simple radio device might be a good way to do it: build a simple mesh network with limited reach (maybe 20 to 200 yards on the playa) where each node detects the nodes in its surrounding and shows the distance to other nodes that are not currently within reach of nodes that all "see" each other - just a bit of graph thinking and simple heuristics - a very human "satisficing" solution. The playa is likely to be flooded with 2.4GHz (Wifi etc.), and it might be safer to use 433MHz transceivers.

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