Testing of balloon-based mobile towers for disaster-hit areas on

IITians and Japanese scientists are testing balloon communication towers to keep up mobile networks in times of disaster when cellphones and internet are down and people are cut off from the rest of the world.

The project, the first of it kind in the country, is being undertaken by the IITs at Madras, Hyderabad and Kanpur, along with the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and the universities of Keio and Tokyo, Japan.

“During a natural disaster, most normal modes of communication will be down and the ground information from the affected area is hard to come by, which leads to rumour-mongering. Also, the panic survivors find it hard to send out a message to their loved ones, informing them that they are safe. We are trying to remedy this situation with the system we are developing,” says Professor Devendra Jalihal of the department of electrical engineering, IIT Madras, who is spearheading the project dealing with post-disaster communication network.

Jalihal told Deccan Herald that the system can be used by rescue workers instead of those highly complex and specialised equipment. “It (the equipment) is easy to be carried anywhere,” he said.

“Once the system is set up, a new network will be connected to the mobiles of survivors, which will allow them to get in touch with the rescue workers and request assistance in the form of text or voice messages,” he said adding, “the ‘I am alive’ service will also help a survivor record his message by calling a special number”.

According to him, all the data, received from the survivors, will then be stored in a database including in the internet for everyone around the world to find.

Explaining the technical details, the professor said the main piece of equipment in the proposed system is a balloon-mounted antenna functioning as the base station of a new emergency mobile network, which is easy to set up and also has a large coverage. The device can reached out to 500 people per sq km at a time.

“It will also have FM capabilities for broadcasting. The balloon can be inflated and be up in the air in few hours,” he said.

Radio broadcasts will be sent out continuously informing people of the network they have to connect to besides the numbers they have to call. 

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