# Computer models predicts path of lost hikers

(PhysOrg.com) -- The next time a Boy Scout is lost in the wilderness, search and rescue teams could have better statistics on their side in deciding where to look.

The next time a Boy Scout is lost in the wilderness, search and rescue teams could have better statistics on their side in deciding where to look.

Lanny Lin, a Ph.D. candidate in Brigham Young University’s Computer Science Department, has developed computer models to predict where a lost hiker will go when he or she encounters tough terrain.

These techniques - which appear in the journal Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory - could help searchers better allocate their resources as they race against time and nature.

“As time progresses, the survivability of the missing person decreases and the effective search radius increases by approximately 3 kilometers per hour,” note Lin and BYU professor Michael Goodrich in their paper.

Lin’s statistical model calculates the most likely path a person would take when he or she comes across steep slopes, dense vegetation or water.

This starts with the point where a person was last seen and incorporates the amount of time he or she has been missing. The method combines this information with topographical data, vegetation, slope and terrain of the area and uses that to update the statistical estimates to help in the search.

In the study, Lin describes a plausible scenario where a Boy Scout becomes lost near Payson Lake. While searchers would have fanned out following the Scout’s original course of travel, the missing boy most likely would have looped back behind them when moving from a forest area to a nearby slope.

The statistical predictions are just one element of Lin and Goodrich’s search and rescue research. The magazine Popular Science featured an that they’ve equipped with cameras to spot someone lost in the wilderness. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Goodrich, a professor in the Department, serves as Lin’s mentor in his doctoral work. Both are quick to give credit to all others involved in the project, emphasizing that they are just a small part of something that is hugely collaborative.

“We are building off a very long tradition,” said Goodrich. “Lanny has taken a big step forward in merging existing technologies into one method that will aid in rescuing those who get lost.”

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Sep 08, 2010
Nice but with all those GPS powered phones out there there are much easier ways to keep your location revealed to other people. (realtime)
(it is at least possible with Android OS Phones)

Sep 08, 2010
No not really Kedas most not all but most phones that use GPS are really using a couple of cell towers to figure out where you are and as everyone know sometimes they are dead on correct and other times they are off by a few hundred feet to a few blocks -- now getting that close to someone in a forest almost guarentees finding them, most hiking areas are not the best places to recieve reception. And if you are that far out your phone trying to keep track of a signal is going to erase your battery in hours. Now a true GPS phone or satellite phone that contacts 4-6 satellites to figure out its posistion would not have this hinderance.

Sep 09, 2010
You are right that reception could be a problem.(since you still need to be able to sent out your location)

But you should check some phones, they really have a GPS chip inside, the first ones where made based on the method you describe though.