Imagine: a crashing sound in the middle of the night disturbs your sleep. You try the lights, but the power is out, and just as you are pulling on your slippers to head to the fuse box — the howling wind outside knocks the oak in the front yard into your house – taking the corner of your bedroom roof with it and leaving you cold, wet, and confused.
What’s the first thing you’re likely to grab as you flee your soggy sheets for the safety of the basement, remembering something about a storm warning on the 6 PM news? What one item do you possess that can provide you with information, assistance and let others know what your situation is? More than likely, your mobile phone comes to mind.
This one device can indirectly provide the four essentials which matter most in a disaster situation: food, water, shelter, and clothing, as well as assist you after the acute danger of a crisis has passed. However, hurricanes, tornados, fires, and floods destroy not only houses and roads – they usually take the infrastructure that surrounds them down as well. One of the first casualties of such disturbances is often the mobile phone network.
Without a network, the phone that you depended on to get you to safety is little more than an expensive sculpture in your pocket. Suppose you’ve been in situations like the one described. In that case, you’ll be familiar with the picture of poorly-clad people shifting about, phones held high, hoping for a signal to inform family, friends, and officials of their situation.
Beamlink is a startup that aims to provide disaster areas with decentralized, rapidly implemented mobile-network coverage. Their product, the Beamlink S1, is a portable cell-tower in a box that can provide network coverage in an area at the touch of a button with no set-up or experience necessary. Sixteen such boxes can fit into one large backpack, and they each can connect automatically with each other to sync service over ever-larger areas.
The team of young standouts at Beamlink, Arpad Kovesdy, Max Gunara, Mateo Abascal, and Swapnil Surdi, know that by providing communications services to those that need them most, they can solve nearly all of the attendant problems of natural disasters and provide long-lasting benefit to those affected. They designed their product using Fusion 360 and EAGLE PCB design software.
The team at Beamlink chose Fusion 360 because it is a powerful, full-featured CAD tool integrated with manufacturing capabilities that they could use to design together, even though the team is spread out between Los Angeles and Baltimore. They store their data on the cloud, allowing for seamless collaboration, and can generate prototypes in less than a day when combined with additive manufacturing machines. It also helps that nearly everyone they know in their local startup scenes was already using Fusion 360 – and recommended it to them.
The Beamlink Team made initial prototypes with off-the-shelf components, but later versions needed to reduce the cost and size of the Beamlink S1 to make it cost-effective and transportable. Abascal had some prior experience with Autodesk EAGLE PCB design software, so he instantly began using EAGLE to make their own boards to achieve these goals. EAGLE’s tight integration with Fusion 360 allows Abascal to make PCBs that fit perfectly for his housings and update them with no issues during every design iteration.
Just when Abascal thought things couldn’t get any better – he discovered Fusion Electronics. Fusion 360 Electronics is essentially a next-generation EAGLE that is fully integrated into the Fusion 360 environment. Abascal was able to begin working in Fusion 360 Electronics with no learning curve at all — just smooth integration throughout the whole process.
Beamlink is confident that long term communications outages after natural disasters will soon be a thing of the past. They are in negotiation with rescue agencies, aid organizations, and militaries worldwide who see the potential for their product and have expressed interest in purchasing enough units for dedicated testing in real-world conditions.
Beamlink even sees applications for less dire situations, such as smaller-scale service for local “white-spots” in cell phone coverage where a full tower would be unnecessary or impossible to install. Remote villages or habitations could be cheaply connected to the broader world, and even large events which often overpower local cell phone service could benefit from a few dozen Beamlink S1s spread around the area.