Ramping up connectivity in remote regions

Drones, small satellites and smart software are set to enhance connectivity in some of the world's harshest environments thanks to an EU-funded project enabling innovative applications for Internet of Things devices such as polar climate sensors.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


  Infocentre

Published: 22 January 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Agriculture & foodMarine resources & aquaculture
EnvironmentClimate & global change  |  Ecosystems, incl. land, inland waters, marine
Human resources & mobilityMarie Curie Actions
Information societyTelecommunications
Research policyHorizon 2020
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Norway
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Ramping up connectivity in remote regions

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© ba11istic #243996582 2019, source:stock.adobe.com

From assessing Arctic warming or monitoring ocean pollution to managing offshore fish farms or wind turbines, wireless sensor networks will play an increasingly important role in remote regions of the world – providing crucial data while minimising the need for human intervention and risky expeditions.

But for sensors and other devices to do their job gathering, analysing and relaying information far from traditional wireless and mobile networks, improved means of communication are needed that can address connectivity challenges robustly and affordably.

This is where the EU-funded SINET project comes in. It developed pioneering software-defined networking solutions that make it possible for static or mobile devices on the ground or in the ocean to connect with unmanned aerial drones and small satellites – and relay information to end users anywhere in the world.

‘Communication in remote areas, especially in high-latitude regions such as the Arctic, is challenged by the lack of infrastructure and by the limited availability of resources,’ says project coordinator David Palma, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. ‘However, these regions have high scientific importance and require efficient ways of transferring research data from different missions and deployed equipment.’

Seamless connectivity in far-flung corners

Networking in the Arctic and other remote regions currently relies on commercial satellite solutions that are limited and costly from a financial point of view and in terms of the available bandwidth and energy efficiency, according to Palma.

SINET’s alternative builds on Palma’s experience in software-defined networking to tackle heterogeneity and improve overall networking robustness, enabling sensors and other Internet of Things devices that can send and receive data to seamlessly switch communication technologies.

Used in this way, software-defined networking allows such devices to either use short-range WiFi to connect to an autonomous drone flying overhead or a long-range radio for satellite communications, depending on the circumstances. This ensures always-on or intermittent connectivity and enables data to be transferred in the most efficient manner depending on the communication carriers available.

Combined with machine learning techniques and decision-making mechanisms, each device can intelligently adjust communications methods and save battery life.

Drones as data mules or swarms of satellites?

SINET experiments included using unmanned aerial vehicles as ‘data mules’, sending them circling over an area of ocean to gather large amounts of data from nearby sensors and equipment. The project team also simulated using a freely drifting swarm of low-cost miniature satellites to support networking in the Arctic region, demonstrating the feasibility of simpler, smaller and more affordable satellite communications systems.

As a result, SINET has provided important insights for technology providers, as well as scientists and researchers, by introducing Internet of Things protocols and frameworks into areas that previously had limited options for networking.

SINET work has contributed to a number of ongoing research projects and led to several open source software solutions, including a communications system implemented in a radio developed by Norwegian autonomous device developer Maritime Robotics, where Palma spent a three-month secondment.

The dissemination of digital devices across the seas and oceans of the world is now becoming a reality, laying the foundations for sophisticated applications such as autonomous shipping or exposed fish farming, says Palma, who received funding through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship programme.

‘In addition, these systems are typically used in areas with high societal impact, such as environmental protection and climate change, and can support efforts to address challenges facing the Arctic, such as those defined in the EU’s H2020 Blue Growth strategy,’ he says.

‘In the words of Jacques Cousteau: ‘We must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology’.’

Project details

  • Project acronym: SINET
  • Participants: Norway (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 699924
  • Total costs: € 196 400
  • EU contribution: € 196 400
  • Duration: May 2016 to May 2018

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