Belfast-based researcher develops drone system to help in natural disasters worldwide

  • A researcher at Queen's University Belfast has developed an early warning system for natural disasters that uses low-cost drones.

    The number of natural disasters affecting human populations around the world is on the rise, with 850 events recorded worldwide last year compared to 740 in 2017. Disasters such as floods, wildfires, and earthquakes can devastate local infrastructure, making it difficult for those affected to communicate with the outside world and get help.

    Dr Trung Duong from Queen's University Belfast has now developed a system that uses autonomous drones to solve the communication difficulties while also acting as an early warning system for areas at risk of recurring natural disasters. The system is designed to be low-cost and operate in remote areas such as rivers that could flood or earthquake-prone communities.

    The "Catastrophe-Tolerant Telecommunications Network" (CTTN) uses drones as wifi hotspots to enable those affected by a natural disaster to get online and request help. When not needed for emergency connectivity, the drones can fly over a wide target location and collect real-time measurements about weather conditions to provide an early warning system for extreme weather changes.

    The drones are expected to last for around 90 and 150 minutes between charges and are significantly cheaper than professional drones. This makes it much cheaper to build than a conventional disaster warning system. "Currently warning systems for natural disasters are very expensive, not always effective and are often easily damaged," explained Dr Duong. 

    He continued: "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."

    The new system is more fault-tolerant than existing river stations used in Vietnam and is 100 times cheaper, and it has already been adopted by Vietnam's Disaster Management Authority. Dr Le Quang Tuan, Deputy Director of Science Technology and International Cooperation for the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority, noted: "As well as monitoring extreme weather conditions, Dr Duong’s system will allow us to communicate with emergency services and each other when we are faced with an emergency situation."

    Source: Written based on press release

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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