UAS-based or complemented communication infrastructures are very flexible. For example, drones can fly over inaccessible or impassable areas and establish networks, independent of existing infrastructure on the ground. This also makes the use of such systems interesting for crisis situations.
Here is where the crux lies: while existing infrastructure on the ground is at particular risk of failing in the event of an earthquake or widespread flooding, communication is of immense importance in such crisis events – especially for first responders to coordinate search and rescue missions or even to operate remote-controlled vehicles accompanying the operation. “UAS are already part of the arsenal of rescue forces, but are primarily used for reconnaissance. With our mission, we want to expand the use cases even with existing systems,” explains mission spokesman Lars Baumgärtner, postdoc at Software Technology Group (STG).
Ad hoc networks in a crisis
The central question for ACN is therefore how UAS can be prepared for and deployed in the event of a crisis so that they can act as infrastructure for the needs of various actors. In this regard, their function goes beyond providing networks. “We use UAS in a crisis to establish ad hoc networks that allow both citizens and first responders to communicate. In addition to coordinating the operation, robots can be controlled to collect sensor data or create a situational overview,” Baumgärtner said.
That's because UAS can also mount payloads, take measurements from the air or capture images from above – capabilities that provide valuable information and assistance to emergency responders, especially in a crisis, in addition to the communications networks they need. So ACN is concerned with creating resilient communications means for people on the ground that simultaneously support other applications, such as observing an area.
To do this, the mission is working on both the technical and operational aspects of UAS in flight planning and in operations with first responders, as well as reliable and efficient solutions for communications systems and data transmission. The goal is to explore how to deal with uncertainty and fluctuating connectivity, to design timely transmission methods of time-critical information, and to develop concepts for UAS operations in complex and very low altitude airspace. ACN also wants to improve the range of remotely piloted devices. To do this, they are conducting research using machine learning techniques and advanced algorithms.
Currently, the mission is working in a computer-generated test environment with advanced simulations, as Baumgärtner explains. “We have developed a virtual testbed for drones that brings together a simulation of the physical world with a network emulation and software-defined radios as hardware-in-the-loop. Currently, we are expanding the possibilities to implement more complex scenarios also with multiple UAS in our testbed.”