Flying robots to provide Wi-Fi in disaster zones
By David Fearon in Hannover
Posted on 3 Mar 2009 at 17:19A group of academics is attempting to use flying "quadcopter" robots as a means of deploying self-assembling ad-hoc wireless networks.
The group, led by Professor Andreas Mitschele of the Ilmenau University of Technology, claims that they could be used in the event of disasters, when standard infrastructure is destroyed.
The robots create a network of radios that provide both mobile-phone and standard wireless network access that allow people in distress to call for help. And it's all achieved using off-the-shelf parts.
The system uses cheap "quadcopters" - autonomous flying helicopter-style robots equipped with satellite navigation - bearing radio equipment based on VIA Pico-ITX computers.
The robots can spread themselves around an area and establish a radio network far more quickly than anyone on the ground.
There are limitations though. "The big problem is the batteries," explained Professor Mitschele-Thiel, as one of the quadcopters buzzed over our heads in the FutureParc hall at CeBIT.
"The quadcopter comes in a kit costing only 300 euros, but the batteries are very expensive [around 1,000 euros] and last only about 20 minutes."
However, that 20 minutes is for flight time, giving the robots enough duration to position themselves and land on "high ground or a building somewhere", and provide network coverage for several hours.
The project is currently looking for PhD students to continue research on the radio techniques involved.
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