June 01, 2017      

Drones can be extremely helpful during emergencies by helping recovery efforts and delivering medical supplies. A professor at the University of North Texas (UNT) is building a drone that transports a communication that could ensure cell service works during emergencies.

When disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes strike, they often take down the technology emergency workers desperately need to keep in contact – cellphone service. The Aerial Deployable Communication System hopes to fix this problem.

Kamesh Namuduri, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UNT, attached a portable communication system to a drone that can fly up to 400 feet in the sky and provide instant cellular coverage up to 1.25 miles during disaster relief operations.

The system currently uses just 250 milliwatts of transmit power, but Namuduri says if it’s scaled with a 10 watt transmit power, it can provide cellular coverage to the entire city of Denton, Texas, which is nearly 90 square miles.

Namuduri and his team recently conducted a successful field test of the system in Waxahachie, Texas. The cellular technology was programmed to tune into bandwidth allocated to the first responder community, proving that it can give them direct access to communication without the concern of an overloaded or damaged cellular towers.

In August, the team will present the results of the experiment at the 2017 Global City Teams Challenge Expo in Washington, D.C., where they will also be showing off the communications system.

One thing that needs to be improved, of course, is the battery life of the drone. Typical battery life for drones is around 30 minutes, which certainly won’t suffice during emergencies. Perhaps a tethered drone, such as CyPhy Works’ PARC, is the way to go for this application.

Verizon explored a similar system, with its Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) project, to see how drones can strengthen its network during emergency situations. Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila drone is designed to bring internet access to those in uncovered areas by circling an area 60 miles in diameter