When someone gets lost in the woods — or when a convict escapes from prison — finding them among the vast expanse of trees and other features can be a daunting task. Often search parties literally walk in lines just a few feet apart to scour the terrain for evidence. But perhaps there’s an easier way to find signs of life. When cNet editor James Kim and his family went missing last week somewhere in Oregon, Matt Haughey had an idea about how to find them:
I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff come out of MetaFilter, when people collaborate on a real world problem. Then it hit me. There are only 5 or 6 major roads to the coast, and they’re not that long. Why not run a surveillance plane 500′-1000′ feet above each of the roads, going slow enough that it takes maybe 20-30 minutes to follow the roads to the ocean. If the camera view could capture 100-200′ north and south of the road, you could probably film all 5 or 6 major roads in a single clear day like today.
If each recording is say 30 minutes long for a road, split it into 10 equal parts, 3 minutes long, and upload all of them to youtube. Ask viewers to leave comments pointing out when they see anything strange. The Kims were in a silver Saab wagon, so it’s probably something that can be seen from above. In total, there’d be 50 or 60 short clips and in a matter of hours you could have millions of people closely scan then and start pointing out the things worth looking into on the ground. If everyone says there’s a silver glint in the trees on video #6 from the highway 18 group, at 1:55 in, you could send a police unit out to investigate.
Kim’s wife and children were located, safe but snowbound in an isolated Oregon canyon, by a helicopter using thermal imaging equipment. Kim is still missing. Perhaps with thousands of eyes going over the data from aerial surveillance, he could have been found.
A separate but related problem: how to monitor the same forest for signs of a forest fire. A report in ScienceDaily covers one approach:
A forest ranger helicopter flies over a forest, scattering sensors that can relay temperature data to the ranger station. To ensure minimal environmental impact with maximum robustness, the sensors are very simple: they are basically tiny, sturdy thermometers. After the sensors are scattered, they might be moved further by winds, rains, rivers, or even animals. Is there a way to take the local information sent by the sensor network and turn it into global information about the existence and location of fires in the forest? In particular, without knowing the exact locations of the sensors, can one nevertheless glean information about the coverage area of the sensor network?
It turns out, using mathematical modeling, they may be able to. This technology, too, might be applied in a search for missing persons.
In other news:
- Religious belief might help people manage their response to terrorism
- Chris Chatham discusses the problematic concept of “Executive Function”
- Seed’s own Maggie Wittlin reports on recent research linking autism to broken mirror neuron systems
- The newest ScienceBlogger, Omni Brain. Coincidentally, Greta met Steve at Psychonomics because their posters happened to be placed right next to each other. Now our blogs are right next to each other, too! Welcome, OmniBrain!