Flying Wi-Fi hotspot earns accolades at Alberta tech competition

Making a phone call or connecting to the Internet can be difficult in remote parts of Alberta, but a group of grads from Red Deer College has a unique — if lofty — solution. 

While they were students at the school, Jonathan Wong, Austin Wong, Austin Smith, Denon Magnes, Kyler Sereda and Garrett Stewart designed a drone that can be used to cast a Wi-Fi zone almost anywhere.

The students outfitted a three-kilogram quadcopter, a type of drone controlled with four rotors, with special radio equipment. The self-stabilizing drone can fly 60 metres high, clearing trees and terrain that can block cell towers.

“It gets a good signal and then projects it as a Wi-Fi hotspot,” Jonathan Wong said Thursday in an interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

“Hopefully if it gains some traction, we might consider commercializing it.”

Wong and his twin brother, Austin, share a hobby of flying remote-control aircraft.

The team uses a drone to make a Wi-Fi connection, which they use to make a phone call. 0:58

Their project recently made it to the finals of the Capstone Project of the Year competition run by the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET). 

The technology could have numerous applications.

“You can use it on a drilling rig, on a mining exploration site… it’s quite an impressive idea,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh.

At a price point of about $1,300, the drone is a much cheaper alternative to a portable cell tower, which Wong said can be slower to set up and cost four times as much.

The team first tested the drone last winter during a gusty day at a field just outside Red Deer. 

Red Deer College graduates with the drone they created for their capstone project. (Kyler Sereda/Red Deer College)

Despite the wind, the drone flew flawlessly.

“It was a pretty exciting moment,” Wong said.

Graduates from Lethbridge College won the capstone competition with their study of bamboo’s potential as a construction material.

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