science tech engineering unmanned_aerial_vehicles drones wifi telecommunications disaster_response emergency
WiFi Drones Stand Up Network During Emergencies

by Michael Keller

Some of the first responders to enter future disaster zones might be tiny drones equipped with transmitters designed to reestablish WiFi and cellphone communications. 

University of North Texas electrical engineers have unveiled prototypes of the multirotor aerial vehicles that they are designing to fly in pairs after the network goes down. One drone would land in the area—perhaps on a rooftop—and the second would be placed in line of sight of the first up to almost two miles away. 

See the video and read more below.

The team also said they had improved the WiFi transmitter to let people connect up to more than three miles away, a significant improvement from the typical WiFi signal reach of around 330 feet. 

"After a catastrophe, anything that slows an emergency worker down can be disastrous," said electrical engineering associate professor Shengli Fu. “Our goal is to reestablish those connections as quickly as possible so the workers on the ground can be more efficient in focusing their rescue efforts.”

Top gif: The University of North Texas emergency communications drone establishes a link to the outside world via a directional antenna that connects to a second drone. Gif created from Youtube video courtesy NSF.

Top image: Drone developed by UNT professors and presented at the SmartAmerica Expo in June 2014 could save lives by restoring Internet access after a disaster. Courtesy UNT.

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