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Ad Hoc Network Devised for Emergency Communications

Flood rescue boat (Marvin Nauman/FEMA)

(Marvin Nauman/FEMA)

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a mobile ad hoc system called LifeNet designed to help first responders communicate after disasters. Santosh Vempala, professor of computer science at Georgia Tech and grad student Hrushikesh Mehendale will demonstrate the system at the ACM SIGCOMM conference today in Toronto, Canada.

LifeNet is a wireless network designed for use in highly transient environments that requires no fixed infrastructure such as Internet, cell towers, or traditional landlines. The only technology available today that can meet these specifications is a satellite phone, which, at $600.00 or more per unit, can be expensive to own and, at $0.50 per text, costly to use.

The system works by extending the coverage of an Internet gateway or satellite phone from one connected computer to an entire independent network of devices in the field such as smartphones or laptops with WiFi capability. As a result, people in the field with the requisite technology can connect to LifeNet and communicate with each other, with no other infrastructure, as long as one of the devices has an Internet link.

The researchers say a LifeNet network can start as soon as a node is put in place. Each LifeNet-enabled computer acts as both a host-client and a router, able to directly route data to and from any other available wireless device.  Nodes can be moved from location to location as needed, and the network remains intact.

At this point, LifeNet supports low-bandwidth reliable communications such as text messaging. “It’s a trade-off of performance for reliability,” says Vempala. “Reliability is really what you need the most in these situations.”

The Georgia Tech team recently partnered with the disaster management center at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India. Staff from both institutions identified cyclone-affected areas without communications infrastructure that could benefit most from LifeNet. From this collaboration, researchers plan to deploy LifeNet in the Mohali region of India over the next several months.

Read more: Oak Ridge Lab Develops Web 2.0 System for HazMat Tracking

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