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Aweigh – Open navigation system inspired by insect eyes

Postgraduate designers from Imperial College and the Royal College of Art (Flora Weil, States Lee, Keren Zhang, Samuel Iliffe) have developed an alternative positioning system based on the polarized vision of insects. Named Aweigh, (adj. (of an anchor) raised just clear of the seabed), this novel navigation method does not rely on company or governmental services and systems and aims to give technological control back to everyday users.

Networked technologies that we increasingly rely on undergo changes that are often beyond our control. Most smartphones users require government-run satellites to get around day by day, while consequences of Brexit are calling into question the UK’s access to the EU’s new satellite system, Project Galileo. The group of engineers and designers have developed a set of tools and blueprints that aims to open modern technologies to means of democratization, dissemination, and self-determination.

Aweigh includes a set of tools designed to depend only on publicly available materials and resources: digital fabrication machines, open-source code, packaged instructions, and universally accessible sky light. The group was inspired by ancient navigation devices that use the process of taking angular measurements between the earth and various celestial bodies as reference points to find one’s position. Combining this process with the polarization of sunlight observed in insect eyes, the group developed a technology that calculates longitude and latitude in urban as well as off-grid areas.

The project’s technology combines a set of open-source tools, currently developed using a Raspberry Pi, a custom PCB shield, 3D printed rotating mechanics, Python packages, and an instruction handbook. Each of the components of the open navigation device can be built using several resources. The ones provided in the Github repository therefore serve as just one example of a possible implementation.

The project’s development resources are made public via free online distribution, in conjunction with a downloadable manual, schematics for a custom PCB, templates, and several device variations. These variations provide multiple methods of implementation at each step of construction for a spectrum of skill levels. One version, catering to the most technically able users, is a list of components that can be sourced from different manufacturers with diagrams to build them. Another version builds on DIY-hacker culture with a ready-made Raspberry Pi compatible kit, where users can modify and customize their navigation interactions.

Project Page | Flora Weil | States Lee | Keren Zhang | Samuel Iliffe

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