QUB Drone Invention Gives Early Indication Of Natural Disasters

An innovative drone system that predicts natural disasters has been developed by a researcher at Queen's University Belfast.

Already adopted by authorities in Vietnam, the invention is much cheaper than popular alternatives and comes with a wifi 'hotspot' feature to provide phone signal during extreme weather.

An inexpensive alternative to the often unreliable current warning systems, the drone has the capability to ease the work of emergency services dealing with natural disasters across the world, including earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes.

It's no secret that such catastrophes are on the rise, with 850 occurring in 2019, a jump from 740 in 2017 and 500 a decade earlier, as recorded by the Insurance Information Institute.

The low cost telecommunication system uses drones that can fly over large surface areas, taking real-time measurements and providing information about weather conditions.

Known as a "Catastrophe-Tolerant Telecommunications Network" (CTTN), it is critical to emergency missions such as rescue teams and emergency medical services.

The drone was developed by Dr Trung Duong from the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

He explained the benefits: "In Vietnam, monitoring stations are placed alongside the river which cover a small area. 25 of these stations would take around six months to build and cost nearly £0.5m. They only last four years but if extreme weather strikes, they are almost always damaged as they are so close to the water.

"An added complication is that when a natural disaster hits, people in the affected communities find it very difficult to communicate with emergency services and their families as phone signal and wifi is often disrupted due to the weather and also because so many people are using the system at one time."
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While amateur drones last for around 30 minutes when flying over a large area, Dr Duong's system will last three to five times longer. It can also provide seamless connectivity in a crisis situation if networks are destroyed or compromised.

In order to prolong the battery life of the drones, Dr Duong developed a mechanism for allocating resources across the system in real-time, which maximised the system's energy efficiency.

The research was supported by the Newtown Fund under the Newton Institutional Link programme with Nong Lam University and Newton Prize with Duy Tan University, and recently received a best paper award at IEEE Globecom 2019 in Hawaii, the most prestigious conference in the field of telecommunications.

Dr Duong added: "Our challenge was to create an inexpensive wireless system employed drones that could be flown over a large surface area for a longer period of time but also with extra capacity in providing early warnings and wireless connectivity in the aftermath of disaster.

"The research could make a real difference to people living in areas exposed to extreme weather and it will certainly make the work of emergency services much easier. It should also help to save money, the CTTN is much more durable than the current river stations and is 100 times cheaper."

The system has already been adopted by disaster management authorities in Vietnam.

Dr Le Quang Tuan, Deputy Director of Science Technology and International Cooperation for the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority, commented: "Dr Duong's research will have a very positive impact for the people of Vietnam when they face difficult and extreme weather. As well as monitoring extreme weather conditions, it will allow us to communicate with emergency services and each other when we are faced with an emergency situation.

"Working together we can achieve so much more and this will help us to create a safer society for all of our citizens."


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