North Texas Daily

UNT Professor developing airborne cell tower

UNT Professor developing airborne cell tower

June 06
19:56 2017

Devin Rardin | Staff Writer

A UNT professor and his team developed a portable communication system that can be attached to a drone to make an airborne cell tower. A successful test run of the device was conducted on May 3 and 4 in Waxahachie, Texas.

Kamesh Namuduri is an associate professor in electrical engineering department who worked with seven UNT students to create the airborne communication system. He hopes the device can provide cellphone service during disaster relief operations.

“We can do a lot of theoretical things, but I like to do something practical,” Namuduri said. “This can save lives.”

Ramanpreet Singh graduated from UNT in May 2017 and is now working with Hawaii Technologies as an electrical engineer. He took Image and Video Processing and directed studies under Professor Namuduri. Singh is one of the four students who is directly involved in the drone project.

“If there is a tornado that destroys cell towers or there is a flood that causes a loss of power and cellphones stop working, then that’s where we come in,” Singh said. “You can put our device in the air and suddenly all the devices will connect to it and people will be able to call 911, they will be able to call their loved ones.”

Namuduri and Singh were present at the test flight. The flight took place at the Extreme Tactics and Training Solutions gun range in Waxahachie. It was conducted to test the amplitude of the device.

They flew an AR200 drone with a LTE band 14 transmitter attached to it. The drone was flown at various altitudes to check the transmitter’s range at several points.

Maurice Griffin, a drone pilot for the Lone Star UAS Center for Excellence, flying the drone. Courtesy | Kamesh Namuduri

They used a base station with 250 milliwatt transmit power to provide cellular coverage for two kilometers. A transmitter with 10 watts of power could cover all of Denton, according to Namuduri.

Namuduri thought of the idea in 2013 and Singh got involved in 2014. The project was called “Wi-Fi in the Sky” at the time.

One of the challenges the team faced was getting permission to use the frequency-band allocated for emergency personnel. Namuduri had to make a special request before getting permission from AT&T and the Federal Communications Commission.

“I went to all the major companies but they said there is no money for us,” Namuduri said. “Only universities can do this because we have public interest. We are not interested in making money, we are interested in saving lives.”

Another challenge was the technology available at the time. The team had trouble managing the weight of the communication device and the amount of weight the drone could carry.

Drone technology however, has advanced allowing them to carry more weight. The AR200 drone used during the test flight can carry 7 to 8 pounds for about 30 minutes, according to Namuduri.

Now Namuduri is hoping to make the device available for first responders within the next couple of years.

David Boots, captain of fire station three in Denton, doesn’t see a total loss of cellphone service in Denton to be a problem, but still thinks the device is important.

“Anything that helps communication is good,” Boots said.

Namuduri and the team still have to manage a few obstacles such as the limited battery life of drones before rolling out the device to first responders.

“I do hope it won’t be used and there will be no need to use it,” Singh said. “There shouldn’t be an emergency like that, but God forbid if it happens, we will be ready.”

Featured Image: Graduate students Ramanpreet Singh, Tega Agbogidi,  and Kunal Bhadane stand for a photo. They were collecting data such as quality of signal received by the mobile devices at various distances on the ground. Courtesy | Kamesh Namuduri

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Devin Rardin

Devin Rardin

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