The year is 2030 and a biblical flood has hit the state of Minnesota. Most parts of the state are under water with residents stranded on roofs. Networking towers of the state have been rendered ineffective due to the floods. Communications play a central role in rescue operations as relief workers need to communicate with the outside world and one another. With the networking towers down and out, it would pose a problem to the relief effort. The rescue teams, however, are not perturbed.
The teams set up their base on dry ground consisting of a sturdy table, a laptop placed on top of it, and a wireless router that sits next to the laptop. A team member then launches seven toy-like planes by simply tossing it up in the air. The toy planes take flight one after the other and fly in a holding pattern.
Relief workers are now able to work with their mobile phones, laptops, and maintain a line of communication with the outside world even though the networking towers in Minnesota are not working. This is made possible by the toy-like planes that fly over the area. By flying in a particular pattern, the toy planes have transformed themselves into an improvised network in the sky, allowing relief workers to perform the vital task of communicating the ground realities.
Back to the present, the toy planes are actually part of a project that tests the ability of robot planes to function as an emergency network when conventional network towers are incapacitated. The ability to relay information during a crisis translates into more lives being saved. The project is the brainchild of a Swiss-based lab, EPFL, and is called SMAVNET: Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network.
SMAVNET is composed of portable and lightweight robot planes, and a software that is used to maneuver the planes. The robot planes are V-shaped and fitted with micro transmitters that form a mobile network in the sky. A priceless feature of SMAVNET is that relief teams can carry the innovative network around and set it up anywhere.
The mobile network can also be used a number of times on the same day. For instance, if a rescue team needs to shift base, they can initiate landing of the robot planes and then carry SMAVNET to their next base.
The Air Vehicle Network Project by EPFL has immensely valuable practical applications that could be used by relief operations to save the lives of stranded survivors.