Ericsson Research Blog

Research, Insights and Technology Reflections

Smart Igloos

Surely Eskimos need home networking. If the rest of us are setting up our homes for Internet connectivity, smart power, entertainment, and surveillance, shouldn’t they need it too?


Of course they do. This is why we set out to build igloos with state of the art networking facilities:

  • Your igloo becomes your friend on Facebook, so that when you are out fishing you can keep checking on your smartphone how warm the family is inside the igloo.
  • The network becomes one with snow; snow is important. We need to know whether the walls of the igloo are melting. This is why we constructed the igloos from a mixture of snow, tiny sensors, and Snowcat 5 cabling.
  • Understanding what the snow is doing is also important for mountaineers and skiers. The same technology can be used to determine how much new snow is accumulating and what kind of temperatures are developing in the snow pack. This helps in predicting avalanche risk.
  • The networking architecture is designed for low-power, intermittent connectivity from remote locations.
  • Everything can be constructed from lowest cost parts with widely available, mature technology.
  • InsideIgloo


    Obviously, igloos are only an example application for the kind of technology that we’d like to develop. But it’s an example that we personally care about, as many of the as many of the researchers behind this project spend a lot of their free time on the mountains and in snowy conditions.

    We are actually very serious about the technology. We need example applications so that we can gather experience and improve our designs. We are not the kind of researchers that produce only streams of PowerPoint presentations. We like to test our ideas in practice, because it tends to give a more honest view into how well they actually work. And once the igloo test was over, we moved the sensors back home to measure things like snow cover on our own roofs.

    More on the technology later, but first we want to talk about snow and mountains.

    Building a snow tower to improve reception to the cellular network

    Building a snow tower to improve reception to the cellular network


    The video below shows a time lapse of the village coming together. We built it in the Swiss Alps as a part of the ExtremeCom 2012 conference. This conference series is dedicated to developing and testing new communication technologies in difficult environments. In previous years, they’ve met in the jungles of Amazon and in the far North of Sweden, for instance.

    ExtremeCom 2012 Igloo Timelapse from Burtinger on Vimeo.

    These igloos were not built in any suburban backyard either. Reaching the conference site (Berggasthaus Waldspitz, at an altitude of 1903 meters) from Zurich took three different trains, a gondola, sledding down one mountain, and hiking up another one. From the conference site, there was still an hour’s hike to the igloo site. With our the demo gear on sleds.

    On the site, five igloos were built but two never made it past laying down the keystone. Luckily the one with our sensor equipment — tens of meters of cable with 31 temperature sensors attached — survived. The sensor wire was installed inside the igloo walls, with some additional sensors inside and outside. The last meters of the cable were free, with a sensor at the end ready to be tucked inside a sleeping bag for the night — what wouldn’t a research scientist do for the sake of science.

    Sled with a sensor stick on the side

    Sled with a sensor stick on the side

    The sensors measured temperatures at different parts of the igloo during the night and the following day. The changes in temperature can be seen in the graphs below. It turned out to be surprisingly warm in the igloo with a proper sleeping bag: the inside temperature of the igloo remained close to or over zero degrees Celsius throughout the night and temperatures up to 30°C were measured inside the sleeping bag during the night; so warm that one had to open the sleeping bag during the night to cool down.

    One (1) well-deserved after-hike beer

    One (1) well-deserved after-hike beer

    Ari Keränen, Ericsson Research