IIT Kharagpur researchers develop air-borne mobile telecom tower for emergencies

A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kharagpur in West Bengal has developed a drone fleet which can provide portable and air-borne 5G communication network.

Researchers said that the UAVs could serve as air-borne mobile telecom towers during emergencies such as natural disasters when land-based communication networks are damaged by earthquake and floods.

“The system includes an Android-based application fitted to a fleet of drones which are programmed to create emergency communication networks by extending cellular network coverage from the closest available mobile towers,” said Debarati Sen, a professor at GS School of Telecommunication at IIT Kharagpur, who led the team.

The team has submitted a report to the union ministry of electronics and information technology which funded the project.

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UAVs pose a major challenge as the battery life of the device is just about 45 minutes. This makes them it difficult to maintain consistency in the service. Scientists said that during an emergency situation, it is crucial to protect critical data within a micro span of time.

“Through intelligent programming, we can deploy the 5G-connected drone fleet in a particular location as soon as the first emergency signal is flagged. Endangered data in the telecommunication backbone network could be retrieved within the first three minutes of the occurrence of a disaster. The drones will relay the data to the rescue server which is located thousands of miles away while restoring the network connection through the nearest mobile tower,” said Sen

In the case of network disruptions, the drones can intelligently avoid them by changing their locations and bypassing the jam.

In addition to data protection, the fleet could also be used to locate survivors and provide emergency aid while decreasing the time for first responders. Rescuers and officials travelling to an affected region devoid of any cellular network can be auto-connected to such drone services nearby as they search for the mobile network.

“We have already studied the performance of the UAV network in situations of emergency response in disaster management and maintenance of the quality of service by deploying a fleet of four unmanned aerial vehicles. We have used network coverage data of various mobile service providers in the northeastern states to verify the functionality,” Sen said.

The team is now trying to bring down the cost of such a UAV system through reprogramming to make the system affordable for various public bodies.

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