Picture this: you’re snowboarding with friends on secluded backcountry trails when you suddenly lose control and hit a tree. Your friends didn’t see you fall, so you’re alone. No cell phone service. No way of getting out without assistance. This was the situation senior Brody Ping found himself in a few years ago. Another skier fortunately found him nearly two hours later and notified ski patrol. “Being in this situation was extremely stressful and I thought that there can be better ways of ski patrol knowing that a person is hurt rather than word of mouth from other skiers or snowboarders on the mountain,” said Ping.

This experience inspired Ping and his team to develop a solution for their electrical engineering senior design project. Ping and “Slope Savior” team members MacKenzie Caves, Miles Oquendo, Aiden Ramstack and Andrew Wachtel, all electrical engineering majors, set out to develop a solution that would assist ski patrol in locating and helping crashed skiers and snowboarders, which is especially useful in backcountry environments where ski patrol isn’t patrolling.

The team’s solution works in two parts: the Beacon and the Station. “The Beacon is a chest-mounted device worn by the skier or snowboarder,” explained Ping. “When the rider gets into a possibly injurious crash, ski patrol is notified of the rider’s location via the Station device. The Station can then help ski patrol navigate to the location of the injured rider.”

The device decreases the time to locate the injured rider in areas where there is unreliable cell phone service by automatically sending a destress call to ski patrol when a rider gets in a crash.

The team explained the Beacon’s major features are crash detection, determining crash location and communicating with ski patrol. The Station’s major features are displaying information relevant to crashes to ski patrol, and a providing a way to navigate to the injured rider. It is also vital the two devices are able to send data between each other.

“The Beacon’s crash detection is accomplished with an accelerometer, which senses changes in acceleration, and the crash location is provided in the form of GPS coordinates,” said Ping.

To help ski patrol in situations where the rider may be buried in snow, the Beacon is also equipped with a speaker that can be activated by ski patrol via the Station to further assist in locating the injured rider.

Senior design projects are a culmination of the skills students gained over their academic careers and require full team collaboration. Each team member took on the task of selecting components, designing supporting circuitry, writing code to run the feature, and performing tests to prove that each feature performed as expected. They utilized skills they learned in class, such as C/C++ programming and testing code, but agreed that working on a team was a valuable learning experience. “During this project I have learned about communication protocols and system integration, but the biggest takeaway is the soft skills of working in a team and time management,” said Oquendo.

Slope Savior team members are proud of the fact that their project could be used to help someone in need. “As a snowboarder myself, I am happy to think that our project could help people feel safer on a ski hill, which in turn would result in more people feeling comfortable enough to try either skiing or snowboarding,” said Caves.

“Having a project that could make a difference has been a huge motivator for me,” said Oquendo. “It put things in perspective for me, and I want to continue working on engineering projects that make a difference when I graduate.”

The team plans to have a functional prototype of the Beacon and Station devices on display at the Senior Design Showcase on May 10.