Heliograph Communication

Team: 64


Area of Science: Communication


Our project in the Super Computing Challenge is in the area of communication due to its great need for mankind. Since the technology of cellular and satellite communication is so recent, we decided to go back to the time of the Apaches, and the era of the British Colonial Wars, when the only type of long distance communication was written and carried by horse to it's recipient. Yet, even in this time period we have found evidence of technology that "if" it would have been used, messages could have been transmitted quicker and more efficiently than on horseback. Heliographs are devices using the reflection of the sun off a mirror to send messages by Morse code to a distant location. This simple contraption was much faster than a horse. We plan to act as if we were living in the 1840's before there were telegraphs, cell phones, and the Internet. We plan to assemble our own heliograph and get the hands on experience of how it performs. We also plan to develop a communication route across the U.S. by using the highest mountain peaks within a certain radius. We want to have alternate routes for weather variations and an alternative source of light for nighttime emergencies as well. Though we cannot go back in time, we can use the things that have developed over the centuries to help us achieve smarter, more excellent advancements for our future.

Plan for using a COMPUTER to solve the problem:

We are going to use Star Logo as our computer language. We are hoping that this program can help us determine an efficient route of communication from different points which we will determine on the patches. These points will represent different mountain peaks. This will enable us to find, in theory, the best route across New Mexico, and eventually Arizona. (These being the states where the heliograph could have been used in the 1800's.) We expect to use the computer to model our theory and predict the probability of this project's efficiency.

Description of progress made to date:

So far, we have created a detailed outline of our plan in developing an efficient communication path. We have begun mapping out certain mountain peak elevations in the Southwest. Over the past month, we have worked as a team delegating certain responsibilities to each member of our team. Two of us are working on a power point presentation, and one is drawing out backdrop ideas, and the other is looking at geographical maps to determine a range of peak heights.

The results you expect:

We plan to display the information from the computer in an analyzed structure so that we can determine firstly, if it would be possible to communicate efficiently with heliographs. And secondly, if it did work, then the cost and the time it would take to implement this.
We also play to display the different heliographic routes across New Mexico using the most effective terms possible.


Riddle, James. Heliography (Communicating with Mirrors). 15 Dec. 2005. http://myweb.cableone.net/kd7aoi/.

"How far can you see?" 15 Dec. 2005. http://www.dublerfamily.com/Activity3.html.

"Monte-Carlo estimation." Ypoart.com. 30 May 1997. Monte-Carlo. 6 Oct. 2005. http://www.ypoart.com/tutorials/Photon-Monte-Carlo.htm.

Ray and John Jurgenson, and Richard Brown. Geometry. Boston, MC, 1988.

Goode, Paul and Espenshade, Edward. Goode's School Atlas (Physical, Political, and Economic). NY, Chicago, and San Francisco, U.S.A.

Team Members:

  Zanessa Dodd
  Richard Rush
  Elizabeth Green

Sponsoring Teacher: Alan Daugherty