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Thesis Spotlight: Grant Connolly

It’s no secret that we want every Ogden Honors student to write a thesis. It’s hard to overstate the value of embarking on a long-term project—whether it’s a research paper, scholarly paper, business plan, portfolio, design project, or performance—with an experienced faculty member. It’s not just practical to write a thesis (students have a finished product they can show off to employers, graduate schools, or professional schools), it also gives students essential experience for post-graduate success. That’s why we’re starting a series highlighting our thesis writers with unique projects that, we hope, will change the way you see the Honors Thesis.

First up is Ogden Honors student and Information Systems and Decision Sciences (ISDS) major Grant Connolly. Guided by LSU ISDS Professor Gabriele Piccoli, Grant’s thesis project, “Eddystone Beacons for Earthquake Survivors Identification,” will help speed up search efforts of earthquake survivors, saving rescue workers precious time in locating a victim’s position.

Tell us about your thesis project.

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, demonstrate the importance of organized, rapid, efficient rescue operations. In earthquakes locating survivors trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings is still a vexing problem. If heavy equipment is brought in too early to dig, survivors may be crushed. However, the longer rescue crews dig without heavy equipment, the longer it will take them to reach any survivors trapped further down. Time is of the essence in these operations as human life is lost as every minute counts. The Digital Data Streams (DDS) Lab at LSU recently received a Google Research Award for a project titled: Eddystone Beacons for Earthquake Survivors Identification. The in-kind award provided technology to investigate the use of BLE beacons with limited transmission range to triangulate the position of survivors and speed up search efforts by increasing the up-front visibility of the location of survivors. At scale, a critical mass of beacons and smart devices can form a trail of “breadcrumbs” and provide a sort of x-ray vision within the collapsed building.

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea began with a former doctoral student of Dr. Piccoli’s at Cornell, now a professor in Taipei. The idea came to fruition after the recent earthquake in Taiwan. Prior to this, we were researching the IOT and Eddystone beacons and once the earthquake struck we started developing the idea with the help from the Google Research Award.

How did your thesis project get started?

The project started with our team developing two software applications using HTML, CSS, and Node.js. The first serves as a check in point for the trapped civilians and the second enables registration of the beacons to our system and the tracking of the ones that have been activated. The first app has a custom URL for each beacon that is registered to our beacon setup system. Once the individual URLs had been generated, we used the Beeks mobile app to program each and every beacon and embed their specific URL.

Once the technical side was taken care of, I conducted a set of simulations. The simulations were performed in the Business Education Complex. Given the unique pattern of the BEC, we utilized its design so that the survivors are not visible, but have to be detected before the rescue team can make decisions. To simulate the earthquake scenario, we provided search teams with an exact plan of the BEC and beacon layout. We then requested a variable number of survivors to authenticate with the beacons in their proximity, which began the search and rescue effort. The web application shows, in real time, which beacons the survivors have authenticated with. Search crews only used the beacon’s map, the information about survivors’ proximity to the beacons, and their smartphone to locate the survivors. The results of this battery of experiments will be compared to the other search crew’s performance using a matched sample of rescuers with no access to the beacon infrastructure. This group had to search without using their phone and the beacons—only using traditional search methods to locate survivors. The experiments will be conducted multiple times using many variations and iterations to test different situations that simulate real-life rescue challenges. Along with this, a mathematical simulation will be conducted to compare our field results to those of a simulated model. This should provide interesting results in regard to how the individual relationship between the field experiment and control group differ in time of completion.

Currently, I am improving the applications, building a dynamic map of the beacons and running simulations.

What makes this project important?

I believe this project is important because it not only opens up a practical use for the innovative Eddystone Beacons, but it also allows for an improved search and rescue operations that can be utilized worldwide. Natural disasters are a common occurrence in our world and executing a method that could potentially save lives is always a process worth developing and looking into.

Why did you decide to write a thesis?

I felt it would provide two main benefits to my future career goals: gaining experience performing an experiment based on real world applications, and increasing my proficiency in the use of emerging technologies and practical software programs such as Node.js, CSS and HTML.

Do you have any advice for Honors students thinking about writing a thesis? 

The main advice I can give other Honors students is to go out of your way and meet professors before your junior year. I was fortunate enough to meet my advisor during my sophomore year and this has allowed me to begin working on my thesis well ahead of the traditional thesis schedule. It also allows you to expand your breadth of knowledge on your topic while giving you more time to improve your thesis.