Pakistani researchers have developed a portable, solar-powered mobile phone network for using as a communication medium during in disasters like floods and earthquakes when regular communications are often disrupted.
The prototype is codenamed as “ Rescue Base Station (RBS) ” and is developed by the joint efforts of researchers at the Information Technology University (ITU) in Lahore and a team from the University of California for Pakistan – the country’s first every emergency telecom system to work on normal mobile phone devices.
“When the RBS is installed in a disaster-struck area, people automatically start receiving its signals on their mobile phones. They can manually choose it and then call, send messages and even browse (internet) data free of charge,” — said Umar Saif, ITU vice chancellor and an adviser to the project.
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The RBS is a lightweight, compact rectangular box fitted with an antenna, a signal amplifier and a battery, which can be carried easily and even dropped by helicopter in hard-to-reach disaster zones. It has a solar panel to charge the battery, to keep it working in places without electric power.The RBS, which operates using open source software, offers all the features provided by regular cellphone companies.And the main features of Rescue Base Stations are:
- 2.5G cellular services – It offers 2.5G cellular services, which enables Call/SMS and limited local GPRS connectivity.
- Emergency Message Alerts – It allows Emergency SMS broadcast to the registered users within the range of an RBS.
- Supports Eventual Consistency – It can synchronize registration and call record data across disconnected RBS(s).
- Scalability – It allows dynamic addition and removal of new RBS nodes to and from the RBS network.
- Emergency Voice-mail Service – A user can voice record his/her complaint by calling at Ext# 1122. All the recorded messages are available to the rescue teams
- Attribute Based Search – It allows attribute based search through SMS. A user can search for the contact details on attributes like name, occupation and blood group.For e.g. search blood o+ or search name ibrahim
- Direct Dialing Extensions – It allows callers to connect to rescue workers by directly dialing short codes. The dial codes serially calls a list of rescue workers belonging to a specific service group e.g. Ext# 7777 for Doctors, Ext#7700 for police, Ext#7722 for fire fighters etc.
- Intelligent call Routing – It help connects people through calls (conventionally) or otherwise it intelligently routes calls with respect to connectivity rules e.g. call callee’s most recent caller, call someone so shares callee’s occupation or location etc.
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The RBS has yet to be deployed on the ground, but the ITU expects it to be used in the next six to eight months in partnership with the National Disaster Management Authority and a local telecoms company.
Syed Ibrahim Ghaznavi,Lead Researcher at NEWT, Information Technology Univ. said that it costs around $6,000 to develop an RBS, and the Pakistan prototype has been funded by a Google Faculty Research Award.The RBS team is now working with Endaga, a U.S.-based company that connects rural communities through small-scale independent cellular networks, and a local telecoms firm to commercialise the project, he added.The aim of the collaboration is to help phone companies keep their communications systems functioning in a disaster until their regular networks are restored.
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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies developed a customised communications system called the Trilogy Emergency Response Application (TERA) in Haiti when it was struck by a massive earthquake in 2010.But that system could only send text messages to its subscribers on their mobile phones, unlike the RBS which allows users to call, send texts and even browse the web for free.
Lets hope cutting-edge technologies like the RBS could help save more lives by delivering timely advice to disaster-hit people, especially in remote rural areas of where natural disasters regularly disrupt poor communications systems.
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