Disaster Management Over Disruption-Tolerant Networks
A team of students at Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley have developed a proof-of-concept of mobile platform functionality over a disruption-tolerant network. Over the course of a semester-long project, Henry Barnor, Jonathan Chang, and Vache Shirikian implemented a system that allowed a mobile application to work without a continuous connection to the internet. Disaster management applications that have been similarly designed could provide critical functionality in areas where the communications infrastructure has been disrupted.
Disruption-tolerant networking, or DTN, is a network architecture designed around the concepts of data custody transfer and “store and forward” routing. DTN connects disparate communications protocols in order to provide network communication over heterogeneous networks. While originally developed to address the difficulties of communicating in space, where distances are extremely large and line of sight comes and goes, it has since gained popularity as a terrestrial solution for limited or disrupted communication networks.
With the guidance of Art Botterell, a disaster management domain expert with CMU, the team built their DTN system around the GeoCam Project. The GeoCam Project is a suite of applications intended to build a network of citizen disaster responders. For their DTN implementation, the team built a system that allowed the GeoCam mobile application on an Android device to upload geotagged images to the GeoCam Share web application. A UAV, abstracted in this system as a netbook, acts as a mobile DTN node that ferries data between the disaster responders in the field and the internet-connected base camp.
All members of the team are second-year students in the Technical Track of the M.S. in Software Engineering program at CMUSV. The team was formed for the Practicum, a required course for the degree program that consists entirely of a project provided by a real client. The course tests the team’s ability to apply a variety of software engineering skills from previous coursework, and provides valuable experience interacting with a client. During the Practicum, the team was advised by CMU faculty Ed Katz.
By removing the GeoCam mobile application’s dependence on a standard continuous network connection, the DTN system enables disaster responders to send data back to base camp while working in a communications-disrupted area. While the communication is asynchronous, it is nonetheless reliable and near real-time, given sufficient mobile DTN nodes. The ability to provide connected mobile functionality over a large, disconnected area would have a significant impact on the way disaster management organizations can respond to disasters.