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New drone antenna expands Wi-Fi range for disaster-struck areas

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August 5, 2014

The Wi-Fi range-extending drone developed by UNT researchers

The Wi-Fi range-extending drone developed by UNT researchers

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

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. He now writes for Gizmag, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, Melbourne's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches.   All articles by Nick Lavars
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2 Comments

While this is not a bad idea and easily deployed. A decent sized solar/electric blimp could cover a huge area for weeks at a time.

VoiceofReason
5th August, 2014 @ 12:02 pm PDT

VoiceofReason: Google is already doing that stuff. Only issue is keeping it in the air aka gas or some sort of never-ending battery life.

Robert Makela
5th August, 2014 @ 01:49 pm PDT
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