3D Robotics

3689610379?profile=originalFrom Gizmag:

Researchers from the University of North Texas (UNT) have demonstrated an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of supplying Wi-Fi to disaster-struck areas with a range of up to 5 km (3.1 miles). The team says these figures represent a marked improvement on existing solutions and could lead to new forms of wireless communication.

"This technology would be very useful in disaster scenarios when the cell towers are down and there's no communication infrastructure," says Yan Wan, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at UNT and leader of the research project.

Where typical Wi-Fi antennas have a range of around 100 m (328 ft), Wan and her team were able to extend this by developing a directional antenna. The antenna rotates to automatically align with a target, serving to better maintain a strong communications link and prevent signal disruption, but there is still some way to go before it's real-world implementation.

"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," Wan says. "And this is what we're trying to provide."

The damage to the communications infrastructure that often accompanies the destruction of buildings in storm-ravaged areas makes it difficult for response teams to communicate efficiently, and to keep disaster victims informed. In the past, we have seen drones equipped with hardware to provide networks in disaster zones, though the technology developed by the UNT team is said to hold such promise that it could give rise to an entirely new breed of wireless communication.

"We cannot rely on all our communications running through the ground or satellite," explains Wan. "So if we can have this technology develop for drone-to-drone or flight-to-flight communication, we can have better sensing, better coordination and better safety."

Wan has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to focus on developing this new generation of aviation systems.

Source: National Science Foundation

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of diydrones to add comments!

Join diydrones


  • Have you seen the tethers - you can power a multi copter 24/7. This is not about flying around, just getting high. Yes balloons is better choice weather permitting, but there are multi copter scenarios too.

  • Developer

    Interestingly, if you want to add new tech to disaster management functions, you need to augment the well tested procedures that they already follow. Adding a tablet that requires a drone that only works for a few hours is more a distraction than an aid. Paper, paper maps, VHF Radios that work for days etc... are known to save lives. Adding in WiFi and other new tech has to be done robustly. Adding extra complexity and demands on support staff to relief operations will mean it being ignored and rejected. For any proposed solution you need to find the tipping point of it actually being a benefit on the ground, and freeing up resources to concentrate of the task.

    The magic sauce is making it simple. And simple in this case is that the tech is almost invisible to start with. But a more complex role can come with its acceptance (I'm sure VHF radios on first introduction had the same issues)

  • T3

    True, while you could do video over UHF, the antennas required for directional use would be prohibitively large. If you scale it down, you're going to have to use a different frequency to maintain the same level of gain. OTA HD TV is all around the lower UHF band so it's surely possible to get good quality but the antennas are big.

    480p at 433 MHz is nice but these days, unless you're getting HD type quality, people won't be so impressed unfortunately.

  • 100KM

    I'm sure wifi allows personnel to use their laptops to access information such as maps, access email, send photos and use specialised software to coordinate efforts.

  • Developer

    @HFB: "HAM radios and other radio communications are current solutions but they don't allow you to stream images or video of what a UAV is seeing."

    I think if you talk with some HAM Radio people they will disagree. My father builds Amateur Radio Digital Video boxes that they run on 433MHz (70cm) The video quality and range they get is astounding (480p res)  They also know how to build better aerials ;) I'll find a link. The biggest challenge is that the designs need some size reduction to meet the current analog ones people are using.

  • Now, put this concept on a gas powered helicopter with a small generator, and you could get 1-3 hours between interruptions for refuelling... ;)

  • 100KM

    Yeah APM Plane can easily point the antenna to a fixed location on the ground, as if it's a camera. Alternatively it can loiter with the antenna pointing to the centre of the orbit, which can be 5km in radius. Some multirotors can do 45minutes, but add a bit of wind and distance to target that figure drops to 5 minutes or less at target location. I still think planes are a better application for this, but I'm plane bias :P

    Situational awareness is key - I've been involved with a project where real time images are streamed from a command helicopter to ground forces, both on foot and in vehicles, with 8km+ range. It makes such a difference.

  • Ok you right, Drones be a best choice on this case. For expanding Wifi area. If we use drone to drone, can use other drone to be repeater for repeat main signal?

  • T3

    To get the range, they're using a directional antenna. If you use a directional antenna, then you have to be able to point it, which is what they're trying to solve. Mounting one on an airplane would negate having the ability to point unless you put something to point the thing on a plane.

    You would be surprised what kind of stuff disaster response teams use to disseminate information. Using an iPad or other tablet isn't far fetched and this WiFi connection is just the beginning for what they need for situational awareness of a disaster. You have to remember, this isn't just so people can tweet or do whatever when power is out. It's more for the responders trying to locate missing people in remote areas where access to cell connections is marginal at best. True, HAM radios and other radio communications are current solutions but they don't allow you to stream images or video of what a UAV is seeing.

    Here's an example where having that communication link is useful.


  • 100KM
    In some instances it might not be possible to reach the area with the balloon or pole. A plane can fly 10 km, loiter for an hour+, come back to replace battery.
This reply was deleted.