Solar-powered emergency network nearly ready for first light System will send alerts and routing information during disasters
By Doug Page
A self-sustainable, solar-powered emergency communications network is being readied by university researchers.
The network, called Emergency Mesh by its University of Arkansas developers, is meant to distribute hazard alerts and map-based relief information to users during the aftermath of a natural or terror-related disaster.
The researchers say everyone, including disaster teams, police, fire personnel and the public, can use the system.
“There may be no network connectivity or access to the power grid after disasters,” said computer science and engineering professor Nilanjan Banerjee. “Emergency Mesh would provide continuous, uninterrupted service on energy harvested from solar panels when the power grid or wireless systems are out of commission.”
Once deployed, the network could warn citizens to get out of harm’s way and could also help emergency personnel reach victims more rapidly.
Banerjee said the network is a set of interconnected low-power solar panels. Participants would use their smart phones or other mobile devices to connect to the network over Wi-Fi, similar to connecting to Wi-Fi access points at home.
“It’s important that Emergency Mesh communicates using popular, ubiquitous mobile devices, such as smart phones, because during chaotic and stressful times, people need to rely on something that is already familiar to them,” Banerjee said.
The system is designed so that map-based directions to relief camps or food stores can be downloaded to mobile devices.
Banerjee said the mesh can be thought of as a network of nodes that blanket a geographic area. Each solar-powered node contains geographic data that can be downloaded to users or communicated node-to-node. Node-to-node connectivity is important in the event that a node or series of nodes fails, in which case the mesh is designed to automatically redistribute data to maintain service.
The geographic data contained in each node includes maps, similar to the Google map service, that shows areas affected by the disaster, as well as routes around these areas.
Banerjee said he hopes to deploy a pilot network by the end of 2012. “We’re close to getting our solar powered node and software infrastructure done,” he told Homeland1.
Some demonstrations can be found here.
The technology could also be used in non-emergency situations, such as military desert operations, extreme hiking or other remote scenarios.
Banerjee said the team is planning an initial deployment of 35 nodes at the end of this summer in Fayetteville, Ark.