Flying Robotic Swarms To Create Wi-Fi Clouds

A team of scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have designed a robotic system that enables the rapid establishment of a pop-up Wi-Fi network. 

Using flying micro-robots grouped in a swarm, wireless networks can be instantly set up at places all over the globe. After serious catastrophes such as earthquakes and floods, communication infrastructure is often demolished, which complicates the work of emergency teams dramatically. This invention can help emergency teams to communicate quickly in response to disasters. Explains SciDev:

“In the aftermath of earthquakes and other disasters, when communications infrastructure is damaged or overloaded, the first thing rescue teams do is set up temporary radio or mobile communication networks to coordinate the search for survivors. But these networks have limited data transmission capacity, take time and specialists to establish, and can suffer interference from existing commercial networks.”

The micro-robotic swarm could overcome these limitations. It would hover above disaster areas with each robot in the swarm emitting a wireless signal to enable Wi-Fi-filtered communication between rescuers, says PSFK.

“To distribute the vehicles effectively above a designated zone the research team took inspiration from the way ants leave chemical trails to guide colonies to sources of food. Some of the vehicles hover in small circles linked to the location of rescuers and the other vehicles navigate around these markers. Each vehicle is made from lightweight, flexible polypropylene plastic, weighs less than half a kilogram and has a wing span of 80 centimeters. A battery-powered motor enables each vehicle to fly for up to half an hour before visiting a recharging station.”

This invention is not only interesting for disastrous situations, but translated to our day-to-day situations, it would also work as a service for mega events. Temporary gatherings of thousands of people all trying to call and text would benefit enormously from a proper wireless network. Besides that, it’s also very entertaining to see this buzzing swarm of micro-robots in the air as an extra attraction. Check this video and this video to learn more about the technology behind the flying robots.

In conflict situations such as in Libya, the ‘allied forces’ could use a robotic swarm to empower the insurgents with the ability to communicate properly. Imagine a swarm circling above the Tahrir Square in Cairo to enable Facebook and Twitter communication as soon as Mubarak has cut off Internet. The makers will need three more years to improve the invention and make it stable for practical use, as mentioned above. A more simple, single-robot system for crop and biodiversity monitoring has already been rolled out by a spin-off company, SenseFly.

Images by Pruned, original photos by Bjarne Winkler

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