PeopleFinder – portable GSM station for search and rescue operations

We are happy to introduce PeopleFinder, an experimental hardware&software system that can search for mobile devices using its own GSM network and show their locations on a map. The main purpose of the system is to facilitate search and rescue of missing people.

The idea of PeopleFinder is simple: if you’re lost, but your mobile phone is on, PeopleFinder can hook you up, determine an approximate location and provide a communication channel.


PeopleFinder was developed using Osmocom OpenBSC software platform and Fairwaves hardware platform. Physical prototyping was done by ObjectLab industrial design studio.

The project was initiated and funded by Telstra, the largest Australian telecom provider. Dozens of people are lost annually in Australian deserts, and currently PeopleFinder is being tested by the local responsible agency to improve efficiency of their search efforts. Another testing is planned in Philippines for search and rescue operations during typhoon seasons

PeopleFinder UI. Main screen.

PeopleFinder Main Features

1. Automatic registration of mobile devices in PeopleFinder’s GSM network. The GSM network is created by Fairwaves base station and all mobile devices in its coverage area are stored by the system.

2. IMSI (device ID) list with times of devices’ last activity. The list includes devices that were registered in GSM network earlier, but are not seen at the moment.

PeopleFinder. IMSI list.

3. Automatic sending of welcome SMS messages to newly registered device.

PeopleFinder UI. SMS chat.

4. Display of PeopleFinder hardware location on the map.

5. Map view of the area with registered mobile devices. When a certain IMSI is selected the map shows all areas where corresponding device was detected. The circle center corresponds to the search station location, and the radius to maximum distance between the search station and the mobile device based on timing advance information.

6. Mobile device tracking by sending silent SMS messages to get regular updates on device location.

7. SMS chat for text communication with mobile device owner.

PeopleFinder UI. SMS chat.

8. Map tile caching via Internet before S&R for further offline use.

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