When natural disasters happen one of the first casualties is often the communications network. As a result, rapid response crews can be working virtually blind, cut off from each other and the victims they are trying to help.
Where there are transport arteries, such as roads, rivers and railways, they are also very often damaged or disrupted, which makes getting medical and relief supplies to survivors extremely difficult.
When such disasters happen in remote areas with little in the way of communications or transport infrastructure to start with, the problem is exacerbated.
A solution for both the communications and delivery of supplies problems is now being researched in an EU-funded project, called AWARE, which comprises academic and commercial partners from five European countries.
Self-deploying sensor network
Project coordinator Prof Anibal Ollero says a key part of the system being developed is a self-deploying sensor network. “Most sensor network applications assume there is a communications infrastructure, and so one challenge was to devise a system which can cope when there is no such infrastructure or it has been damaged,” he says.
Helicopters were chosen as the aerial component of the project because of their manoeuvrability and ability to hover. This means they can drop sensor nodes off exactly where they are required, automatically calculating where the gaps are and building up a new communications infrastructure. They are also able to functions as aerial communications relays, and to transmit live photographs of exactly what is happening on the ground. These images are then processed in real time and the results are combined with information from sensor nodes and ground cameras to create a detailed picture that facilitates detection, localisation and tracking.
Finally, helicopters can also be used to carry loads, such as medical supplies, and deliver them to exact locations.
IT in the driving the seat
Ollero points out the aim of the project was to develop the software, middleware and functionalities of a control system for autonomous unmanned helicopters coupled with a ground wireless sensor network with both fixed nodes and nodes carried by vehicles and people.
“This is primarily an IT project so we did not concentrate so much on the helicopters’ airframes as on a scaleable control system which, in the future, could be used on a larger scale,” he notes.
The actual helicopters used were less than two metres in diameter, but were still able to prove the potential of the system in real-life simulations.
“The first trial was in March 2007, and the feedback from this allowed us to complete the system design. Then in April 2008, we had another field trial which allowed partial integration of the various sub-systems in the field. A final, fully integrated demonstration will be held in the spring of 2009, just before the project ends,” he says.
The Sixth Framework Programme-funded project has already been able to demonstrate a world first for either manned or unmanned helicopters by having a load too heavy for one helicopter alone carried by three autonomous unmanned helicopters working together.“It is very difficult to coordinate the helicopters, so this was a very ambitious objective of the project,” he says.
Ollero points out it is also important for the bottom line, as the cost of helicopters increases exponentially with the payload capacity and sharing loads means smaller helicopters can be used.
Future applications of the system will include continuous outdoor and indoor monitoring and tracking of people by using cameras and communications nodes both on the ground and in unmanned helicopters.
As an example, he says the system can detect a fire, localise it and monitor it. Fire fighters can be tracked and monitored inside or outside, and local sensors can provide information on factors like temperature and humidity to reinforce the images produced by cameras. As well as reacting to emergencies and disasters, there are also obvious applications in counter terrorism operations.
Two of the project partners, Flying-Cam SA of Belgium and the Technical University of Berlin, have already made an agreement to commercialise the technology jointly with particular emphasis on developing new products for the film industry, he tells ICT Results.
There is also already a lot of interest in the system from both potential end users, such as fire and police departments, aid agencies and the media, as well as from the commercial organisations which supply equipment and services to them.
“We have invited all of these organisations to the demonstrations and they will be present at the final demonstration next year,” says Ollero.
“Both the people who could use the system we have developed and the companies who can commercialise it and provide it to them are in the loop and interested in carrying on,” he says.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
UT professor develops algorithm to improve online mapping of disaster areas
29.11.2016 | University of Tennessee at Knoxville
New standard helps optical trackers follow moving objects precisely
23.11.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy