New drone antenna gives disaster comms a boost

At the recently held 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 is out. Image credit: National Science Foundation
Date:6 August 2014 Author: Sean Woods Tags:, ,

Whether governments hate them or love them, drones are most definitely here to stay. That’s because, apart from being so damn practical, new exciting applications are being found for them on an almost daily basis. The latest development from the University of North Texas (UNT) – using these remote flying critters to boost Wi-Fi ranges in disaster struck areas – is a case in point.

As soon as calamity strikes, infrastructure in the affected zone invariably goes to pot – placing huge hurdles in the way of emergency response teams trying to coordinate their rescue and clean-up efforts.

At the recently held Smart America Expo, UNT’s Yan Wan 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 metres, or about the length of a soccer field. However, Wan and her research team have managed to extend the Wi-Fi reach of drones to 5 km. Their secret: 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,” says Wan. “However, in order to enable the information dissemination between the rescue teams and control centres, we need to have a structure available to make this happen. And this is what we’re trying to provide.”

In a grant from the National Science Foundation, Wan is busy applying similar technology to next-generation aviation systems.  Wan hopes her research will one day enable future drone-to-drone and flight-to-flight communications, thus improving air traffic safety, coordination and efficiency.

To find out more, visit www.nsf.gov

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