When you go to a football game, you usually look forward to the action on the field or spending time with your friends. But if you’re heading to the Arizona State University homecoming game on Saturday, November 19, take a minute to look up along the way. You may notice a series of large balloons loaded with innovative technology developed by a team of top ASU students.
Known as Guardian Balloons, these balloons are the result of a collaboration between Scottsdale-based security technology company Axon and ASU students at the Luminosity Lab, a student-led research and development laboratory at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Students worked with Axon professionals to find new ways to secure large college campuses like ASU and university events like soccer games.
These efforts are part of a larger experiment in creating comprehensive security for the 21st century, says Karl Schultz, vice president and head of taser robotics at Axon. The contributions of ASU students are an integral part of the development process.
“Luminosity’s strengths lie in tackling these big, real-world problems, breaking them down and developing solutions that cross different disciplinary boundaries and barriers,” said Tyler Smith, Director of Luminosity Lab. “And that way, they’re able to come up with one of the best possible solutions to the problem.”
Large, open environments like ASU’s Tempe campus pose major security challenges, which the Axon and Luminosity Lab team learned about from Dave Ellis, founder of GEMSEC Consulting.
Security teams must balance public access with mitigating potential threats in these spaces. According to Ellis, solutions that improve situational awareness across wide areas are a way to increase safety without compromising people’s experiences.
“Having situational awareness and tools like the balloons that allow you to monitor your surroundings more efficiently are really beneficial in not only stopping things before they happen, but if something were to happen it gives those decision makers more tools in theirs toolbox. ‘ Ellis says.
The Luminosity Lab and the Axon team are developing a flexible situational awareness tool that rises to security challenges.
The Guardian Balloons are helium-filled tethered balloons equipped with cameras recording high-definition 4K video. Multiple balloons, launched at altitudes of around 60 to 100 feet, can work together as a system to provide a complete view of an area like Sun Devil Stadium and surrounding areas. Security teams can pan, tilt, and zoom the video feed to look out for potentially dangerous situations that require attention.
The students have been working with the ASU Police Department to get feedback on the concept and the skills that law enforcement agencies are interested in, Smith says. The department’s support combined with Axon’s expertise has helped the team operationalize Guardian Balloon technology for use in real-world environments such as Sun Devil Stadium.
“The biggest challenge was the stability of the balloons to provide an adequate video feed useful to law enforcement officers,” says Jake McElroy, a senior program manager at Axon who worked with Luminosity Lab students during the development of the project . “The ASU team did a fantastic job overcoming these challenges with video stabilization, balloon redesign and alternative methods such as a fixed mount.”
While balloons appear low-tech, they have advantages over helicopters and drones, which are typically used to get a bird’s-eye view of events. In comparison, the balloons are quieter and cheaper, have fewer restrictions and are easier to use.
They are also highly scalable – additional balloons can be launched from almost anywhere and integrated into the system in as little as 20 minutes – making them better suited to scenarios where fixed cameras and the required infrastructure are not optimal. Guardian Balloons can be powered by wired power and internet connections, or a battery and wireless connection for further increased design flexibility.
“The ease of deployment and location flexibility that this (solution) brings drives us to explore balloons as a new avenue for security and event security,” says Ananay Arora, a computer science student at the Fulton Schools who leads the software development of Guardian Balloons . “The low cost while delivering much higher quality video also makes it a big win.”
Developing a situational awareness system for a complex security landscape requires a wide range of skills and expertise. The eight Luminosity Lab students who have worked on the project so far are undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of majors, including computer science, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, economic and industrial design.
Jacob Mansur, a junior in the industrial design program at ASU’s Design School, says he applied all the fundamental skills he learned in his coursework and even learned new skills through his work on the project.
“With Luminosity, I received more mentoring than I would normally have in a class, and it really helped me understand what to expect when I complete my bachelor’s degree,” says Mansur.
Businesses, students and more than 400 ASU labs and facilities are brought together to solve problems and achieve tangible solutions through ASU Knowledge Enterprise’s corporate engagement and strategic partnerships.
“We work with all industries and all skill sets,” says Jon Relvas, Business Development Director of Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships.
Through Corporate Innovation Labs, Relvas says that “Companies see the hands-on work these brilliant students can do and develop, and expose the companies to a win-win situation: the students gain experience while the companies create new solutions and IP (intellectual property ) create something that can go to the commercial market and be applied to real-world challenges.”
Schultz, who was a professor of practice at the Fulton Schools before joining Axon, was impressed by the diversity of perspectives and skills that the students brought to the project and what they accomplished in a short amount of time.
“ASU students and the Luminosity Lab are very experienced in rapid prototyping, hands-on engineering, and manufacturing, rather than just writing a bunch of equations and saying we solved the problem,” says Schultz. “ASU emphasizes this throughout the curriculum and it shows in the quality of work we receive from these programs.”
Cooperations such as the Guardian Balloons project are not only cost-effective, innovative solutions and the use of the creativity and passion of the students, but also effective measures for human resources development.
“Through this project, I was able to design models based on industry standards,” says Hatvi Thakkar, an aerospace and mechanical engineer who has developed simulation models to test the balloon’s performance under various environmental conditions. “I also learned a lot about different manufacturing techniques for the components used in assembling the balloon.”
success with more to come
McElroy was impressed with the team’s ability to overcome challenges and improve the performance of the Guardian Balloons.
“With operational feedback, the team can create a product that reflects Axon’s needs in days to weeks,” says McElroy. “This kind of turnaround has allowed the team to stay on track for success.”
Their solution takes it to new heights in developing a non-intrusive and effective way for security teams to quickly detect threats, analyze the situation, and respond.
“I think the students built a great system that is effective, efficient, scalable, affordable, and easy to deploy,” says Ellis. “You often don’t get all of this in one solution. And it not only solves the challenge of creating great situational awareness, but has other applications as well.”
Students are also planning ways to make the balloons a fun presence at ASU events, from using LED lights that can amplify the spectacle to other helpful features like pathfinding capabilities.
Right now, it’s a rewarding experience for Luminosity Lab students to see their solution in action at an ASU football game and know that greater possibilities are on the horizon.
“My team and I are incredibly positive about what we’re doing,” says Arora, “which is using our engineering skills to build something that protects the ASU community.”
Video of CESP – Guardian Balloon
Video by Knowledge Enterprise
Sandra Keaton Leander, Assistant Director of Media Relations at ASU Knowledge Enterprise, contributed to this story.