drones flying above remote area

Drones used to collect data from remote IoT devices

Image credit: Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Scientists have developed a system to remotely collect data from IoT devices which would otherwise be unable to communicate with a central server.

The KAUST researchers believe such a system could be the key to connecting large numbers of smart objects spread across a broad geographical area.

“IoT networks will revolutionise the way we monitor, control and communicate with everything around us,” researcher Osama Bushnaq said, adding, “To enable IoT networks, a huge number of low-cost, self-powered sensors are needed.”

Traditional wireless data transfer is unsuitable for this purpose due to the limited power supply of each sensor and the complexity of connecting so many devices.

Sending UAVs to gather data via low-power, short-range transmission could be an alternative, transferring the burden of data aggregation from each individual sensor to a single machine that can autonomously return to base for recharging.

The researchers made efforts to minimise the total mission time, optimise coverage area and lower the number of hovering locations.

Imagine a field randomly covered with IoT sensors, said researcher Osama Bushnaq: “Covering a small area of the field at each hovering location improves communication between the UAV and the devices, reducing data aggregation time.”

The team split the problem into components. For a given number of hovering locations they first calculated where the optimal ones would be. They then identified the best route between locations and optimised the data transmission rate.

“The process is repeated for different numbers of hovering locations until an optimal trade-off between hovering and traveling times is obtained,” Bushnaq said. The approach cut the mission time by up to 10 times for a field of 100 square metres.

The team is currently testing the idea of using UAVs with IoT sensors for fire detection. “We are studying how such a system can be used for forest fire detection and the trade-off between system cost and fire-detection reliability,” said Al Naffouri, who leads the lab developing the technology.

Other examples include crop fields that could be filled with sensors to monitor water and nutrient levels or networks of sensors that detect wildlife.

Earlier this year, a network of IoT sensors was installed at London Bridge station to gather data designed to help prevent delays and train cancellations.

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