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Researchers develop emergency communications network

US: Researchers at the University of Arkansas developed an emergency communications network that will maintain operation during natural disasters and provide critical warnings and geographic information to people affected by the disasters. The researchers are honing and testing the system now and expect to deploy a pilot network at the end of 2012.
The system, which the researchers call an emergency “mesh,” is self-sustainable and solar-powered, which means it would provide continuous, uninterrupted service even when the power grid or wireless communication systems are out of commission. Users would receive critical information on popular devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants, tablets and laptops.
The mesh can be thought of as a network of nodes that blanket a geographic area. Similar to servers, each solar-powered node contains data – geographic information – that can be downloaded to a user or communicated node-to-node, if necessary. The latter function is critically important in the event that a node or nodes fail due either to variability inherent in renewable energy or the likelihood of extreme environmental conditions in the aftermath of a natural disaster. If either or both happen, the mesh will automatically redistribute data to maintain service.
The geographic information will include a map, similar to the Google map service, that shows areas heavily affected by a disaster as well as routes around these areas. The system’s online demonstration ) displays a disaster area in red, while a green line shows an unobstructed or optimal route to an aid station or hospital.
Nilanjan Banerjee, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering said the technology could also apply to non-emergency scenarios, such as hiking in extreme wilderness areas or military operations in deserts or other remote locations.
The researchers received a USD 485,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the system.
Source: University of Arkansas