While other U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) midshipmen spent their summer training with sailors and Marines around the fleet, one midshipman was holding her own at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California.
During a month-long internship at NPS, Midshipman 2nd Class Allison Hunt worked with Marine Corps Capt. John Roth, U.S. Naval Academy senior instructor, to develop new and novel ways to locate mobile subscribers in cellular networks.
“One of the great things about these types of projects is that they have real world applications,” said Roth. “These projects will have an immediate and real effect on the world at large.”
Currently, emergency and rescue services rely on tracing locations of mobile callers with GPS, which relies on line-of-sight environments for accurate locations. This can be a problem if calls are placed in a high density area or from a building with multiple floors where line-of-sight is not possible. The research Hunt has been working on enables these services to narrow the search by using a mathematical model to predict the local radio propagation characteristic so responders can better determine the precise location of a call.
“The basic idea behind the method we used to try to find someone in a non-line of sight environment is called ‘fingerprinting’,” said Hunt. “The idea in fingerprinting is to make a map of what the received signals from each base station look like at a bunch of different points in space. Then, given an observation of a bunch of different signal strengths, you try to match the observation to a location on the map you collected beforehand.”
“She worked on the project for about 4 weeks,” said Roth. “That involved learning specific computer programming language in which she had little experience with beforehand. It is truly amazing how much she learned in such a short time and how quickly she is able to pick up new concepts.”
For the research, Hunt modeled a number of situations using a simulated cellular environment created from a computer program called MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory). Hunt’s simulations included people traveling in vehicles down some of the interstates in the San Jose, California area. The goal was to locate a particular target and track their movement within the cellular environment.
“The model we are using right now assumes that everything stays the same in terms of traffic, movement, and time of day,” said Hunt. “It’s an issue that will need to be addressed during the implementation.”
Hunt continued her research through the fall semester in an independent research course at the electrical engineering department. The ideas she is developing to further the project will have ubiquitous applications for marketing, advertisement and disaster relief efforts.
“The fact that she is an undergraduate student and an author of a paper being published is a huge accomplishment,” said Roth. “I was lucky to have her as an intern and when I gave her the context of the project, she ran with it from there.”
Midn. Hunt has taken a lot that she has learned as a growing naval officer and invested it into the project. According to Roth, she has shown a great measure of adaptability and it is a testament to this institution that we can produce leaders that are adaptable. She has demonstrated that by taking a problem that she had not seen before, in a setting she was unfamiliar with, and within the course of 4 weeks, worked to a proficient level.
“It’s been a blessing to have the opportunity to work with Captain Roth and to be included as a coauthor in the paper,” said Hunt. “I am really excited to have the chance to go to this conference and learn while I’m there.”
After getting published, Hunt and Roth had the opportunity to attend the 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) to present their work Jan. 5 - 8.
The HICSS is a prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference and one of the longest-standing continuously running scientific conferences that brings researchers from more than 40 countries together to exchange of scientific ideas. The conference enables further research on a mixture of computer-based applications and technologies and includes three days of research paper presentations and discussions in a workshop setting that promotes interaction leading to additional research. Paper presentations and discussions frequently lead to revised and extended papers that are published in journals, books, and special issues.
“I'm happy to say that Midshipman Hunt's research was well received by those also presenting at the conference that are all certainly senior to her,” said Roth. “If she wasn't the only undergraduate student there presenting, she was certainly in the minority. Given this, her poise and ability to articulate technically sophisticated ideas to an international audience is all the more impressive.”
Attending the conference marks a major milestone for Hunt by presenting the work she's done over the summer and through the fall semester. The focus of this semester will be an application for a Bowman Scholarship.
Each year the Bowman Scholar Program selects up to twenty-five second-class midshipmen applicants who show significant academic, leadership and research potential in their undergraduate work, who are willing to commit to nuclear service.
“I'm convinced the research model Midshipman Hunt is pioneering is an ideal venue for developing the attributes we are looking for in a USNA graduate,” said Roth. “In addition to affording the Naval Academy international recognition in research circles, Midshipman Hunt has taken immense strides in building technical proficiency, innovative thinking, and adaptable problem solving while concurrently fostering her ability to articulate complex ideas both in written and spoken word.”
At the Naval Academy, faculty members with expertise in many areas mentor midshipmen and facilitate their development as scientists, engineers, or scholars. Funding for midshipmen projects and travel is provided through several sources, including the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
“I’ve been very fortunate and have had a lot of people helping me during the whole process,” said Hunt. “I’m really thankful for this opportunity, blessed to be able to do this kind of work, and excited to see where it goes from here.”