Telcom Giants Plan to Use Drones As Base Station For Emergency

Drones are seen as a great tool for taking dramatic aerial videos as well as inspecting crops, buildings, and other forms of infrastructure. They are also being developed as a tool to improve mobile and internet connectivity during emergencies.  A bad mobile signal is frustrating and during emergency situations can mean the difference between life and death. A slow emergency response means higher mortality rates.

The problem with mobile signals is the infrastructure necessary in transmission. The signals are sent through base stations which are typically installed on a building or a tall mast. These are difficult and expensive to install, and almost impossible to set up during emergency situations.  During the last two years, Nokia and EE (a British mobile operator) have both been using portable mobile base stations attached to small drones in Scotland.

The idea is that if an emergency situation occurs, a drone will fly to the area and provide 4G mobile network coverage almost immediately. The range will cover a 50km radius and will also help emergency workers stay in touch.  The only problem is that the drones cannot fly for too long before their batteries run out. 30 minutes is the standard for most drones.

AT&T is developing a large drone that is like a helicopter but powered by ground cables. The drone is called “Flying COW”.  The “Flying Cow” will be able to stay airborne for up to 24 hours at a maximum height of around 550 feet.  AT&T stated that the drone was used to provide 4G coverage after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last November. The Flying Cow covered an area measuring 36 square km and was very effective as a base station.

Nokia has also been working on turning emergency vehicles into operational control centers which will assist emergency responders.  By outfitting these emergency vehicles with their own personal 4G network, they can cover a 50km radius. From these vehicles, they can launch drones and monitor the scene of emergencies easily.

The same idea is being used for emergency search and rescue operations. Drone technology developers are working to integrate artificial intelligence into drones allowing drones to link up and communicate together basically turning multiple drones into a “swarm” system.  Only one operator is needed to fly a swarm, so this means that emergency rescue operations will get extra help, but without the cost of extra manpower which is able to cover larger areas during emergencies fast and conveniently.

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