Nokia's Test of Wireless Connected Drones for Tsunami Evacuation Alerts Is a World's First

Nokia conducted world's first-of-their-kind tests in Sendai costal areas which were devastated by the tsunami to show the effectiveness of drones using a private LTE network for disaster prevention and mitigation.
Susan Fourtané

The drone industry is experiencing what we could call the drone golden age. The global drone market is forecast to grow from $14 billion in 2018 to over $43 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 20.5%. According to the Drone Market Report 2019: Commercial Drone Market Size and Forecast (2019-2024) published by ResearchAndMarkets, "service drones will continue to be the largest segment of the drone industry although the software is the fastest growing. Energy is and will continue to be the largest industry on the drone market, but Transportation and Warehousing are going to close the gap and overtake all others as the fastest growing industry. Inspection continues to be the leading application method of drones, but the greatest growth is expected in drone deliveries." 

Drones for disaster response

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), can quickly and safely be deployed over disaster areas. Responders can use drones to create 3D maps, fast scan for natural disaster victims, and assess damaged infrastructure among other applications. Drones play an essential role in emergency disaster response. The benefits of deploying UAVs humanitarian purposes has prompted the United Nations (UN) to publish an official policy brief on this topic. 

And while more UN groups and others explore the use of drones for disaster response, more tests, research, and betterments to the technology are carried out. 

Such is the case of a recent test flight successfully conducted by Sendai City and Nokia. The test flight demonstrated a Nokia drone which used a private LTE network provided by Nokia Digital Automation Cloud. They tested the potential use of drones during a tsunami --or other disasters-- to help in prevention and mitigation efforts. According to Nokia, the test verified that using a private LTE network to control and communicate with the drones is an effective means for enhancing situational awareness and communicating with the affected population during a disaster. This type of trial was conducted for the first time ever.

Sendai City is located in the center of the Tohoku Region, in Japan. It lies northeast of Tokyo on Honshu Island and has a population of over one million. The coastal areas were devastated by the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake back in 2011. The affected areas have been recognized internationally by the United Nations as a symbol of disaster risk reduction and reconstruction. According to Nokia, during the verification test, it was assumed that a major tsunami warning would be issued in the coastal area near the Minami-Gamo Water Treatment Center in Miyagino Ward, Sendai City.

Nokia and Sendai City world's first test drone on private LTE network: First step into the future of drones in smart cities

Nokia drones using private LTE networks were conceived a few years ago with the vision of offering smart cities their own private network dedicated to city drone management. The years of research and testing brought the world's first test of a wireless connected drone using a private LTE network to Sendai City.

In 2017, Nokia and Sendai City concluded a strategic partnership agreement for improving the safety and security of citizens along with supporting local industries through the use of Nokia ICT technology. A drone demonstration was held on November 9 to 12 in conjunction with the World Disaster Prevention Forum, Davos Meeting at Sendai 2019 held in Sendai City.

According to John Harrington, Head of Nokia Japan, Nokia Drone Networks has also been adopted by the Red Cross in the Philippines as a social infrastructure for disaster relief operations. With the tests in Sendai, the disaster prevention and mitigation for Sendai City and other local governments in Japan took a step forward in how drones on private LTE networks can be used in smart cities. 

After the tests, Sendai Mayor Kazuko Kohri said that "the use of these drones seems to be very effective in ensuring the safety and security of Sendai and its surrounding areas. The demonstration by Nokia showed that we should be able to respond faster and provide better information to the people in the most affected areas during a potential disaster. We are very hopeful that Nokia Drone Networks will help us to reduce risk for our citizens."

How Nokia's wireless connected drone for tsunami evacuation alerts was deployed

Nokia Drone Networks is a turnkey solution consisting of one or several drones equipped with gimbals with HD and thermal cameras, a private LTE wireless network, a drone flight command, and control center, and video analysis applications. Private LTE/4G provides seamless and secure connectivity, making it more suitable for mission-critical use cases than the mostly Wi-Fi-based technology used currently in public mobile networks.

The high-performance, low-latency connection provides optimized coverage for the drones, ensuring sufficient capacity for video streaming across wide areas and enabling secure information processing. These drones can also be flown over populated areas with limited risk and with better control in difficult weather conditions, which make them ideal for disaster recovery areas. 

The Finnish company deployed a private LTE network near the Minami-Gamo Water Treatment Center using Nokia's plug-and-play digital automation cloud technology. By using speakers, HD cameras, and thermal cameras mounted on Nokia drones, the testers were able to deliver recorded and real-time voice messages. They also conducted aerial monitoring using HD and thermal camera video streaming straight from the drones. 

During the simulated disaster, the testers issued a major tsunami warning to evacuees in coastal areas through the drone speaker; and they also were able to monitor the tsunami arrival zone and coastal areas through drone camera images. According to Nokia, the testers also guided people to evacuation sites using the drone to convey directions; they monitored the movements of evacuees using the drone camera. The test also highlighted how first responders can facilitate disaster prevention and mitigation without risk to the personnel managing the evacuation activities. 

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