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Drones for Disaster Relief: Providing Wireless Communications to Storm-Ravaged Areas

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 9:40am
Aaron Dubrow, NSF

At the Smart America Expo, Yan Wan from the University of North Texas exhibited unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) she developed that are capable of providing wireless communications to storm-ravaged areas where telephone access might be out. Courtesy of NSFAt the Smart America Expo in June 2014, Yan Wan from the University of North Texas exhibited unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) she developed that are capable of providing wireless communications to storm-ravaged areas where telephone access is out.

Typical wireless communications have a range limit of only a hundred meters, or about the length of a football field. However, using technology Wan and her colleagues developed, Wan was able to extend the Wi-Fi reach of drones to five kilometers, or a little more than three miles. The secret is designing directional antennas that can rotate and adjust automatically to assure a strong connection.

"This technology would be very useful in disaster scenarios when the cell towers are down and there's no communication infrastructure," Wan said. "However, in order to enable the information dissemination between the rescue teams and control centers, we need to have a structure available to make this happen. And this is what we're trying to provide."

In a grant from NSF, Wan is applying similar technology to next-generation aviation systems. One day, Wan's research will enable drone-to-drone and flight-to-flight communications, improving air traffic safety, coordination and efficiency.

The Smart America Expo brought together leaders from academia, industry and government to demonstrate the ways that smarter cyber-physical systems (CPS) — sometimes called the Internet of Things — can lead to improvements in healthcare, transportation, energy and emergency response, and other critical areas.

The preceeding is part 4 of the Smart America series showcasing NSF researchers designing improved cyber-physical systems. In parts 1, 2 and 3, learn about cyber-dogs, tele-robotics and smart shape technology research.

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