Over the last decade, mobile phones have become more and more important in rescuing people, and helping them recover, from natural disasters. In these tragic situations, being able to use mobile technology to provide updates, confirm people’s locations and communicate regarding relief plans is essential.
However, in many remote locations, mobile connectivity remains a big problem.
For this reason, a team of expert researchers at Flinders University has been working closely with the New Zealand Red Cross Information Technology and Telecommunications Emergency Response Unit, to create an innovative new communications solution tailored specifically for the Pacific region.
The solution, called Serval Mesh, is a software suite that enables off-the-shelf Android phones to perform infrastructure-free, peer-to-peer voice, text and data services. Essentially, it enables people to communicate via wireless mesh networks, rather than via traditional telecommunications networks. It enables cellular-like communications in the absence of a cellular signal or internet.
Importantly, the Serval Mesh software is free and easy to download, and the mesh networks are easy, fast and inexpensive to deploy, which is vital when it comes to responding to disasters.
To improve its effectiveness, the software also integrates with optional, pocket-sized, inexpensive radio hardware units called Serval Mesh Extenders, which enable people to communicate using radio signals.
The Flinders-led Serval Mesh project team has worked hard to ensure Serval Mesh is tailored towards rapid, secure and inexpensive post-disaster deployment in the Pacific: a commitment that recently saw the technology win a prestigious international award.
In 2016, Serval was announced as one of five winners of the International Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, which attracted 129 applications from 20 countries around the world. An initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's innovationXchange, the challenge aims to acknowledge and develop outstanding efforts to improve faster, cheaper and effective humanitarian responses to Pacific nations.
Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen, one of the key members of the Flinders University research team, and a key person behind the new Serval Mesh technology, says the $279,000 prize will be put to very good use.
“The award funding will be used to make technical improvements so that the Serval Mesh is even easier to use,” Dr Gardner-Stephen says.
“In conjunction with the NZ Red Cross, and with support from our collaborators in the German NICER project and trials in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in South Australia’s Outback, we will extend our testing to a pilot in the Pacific, ahead of the first large-scale rollout of Serval in a post-disaster situation in the Pacific.”
For more information visit the Serval Project.