Smart Technology For Communicating On The Move

Police and other emergency services could soon have access to low cost high bandwidth communications technology while driving at high speeds using a unique digital wireless network that exploits signal processing techniques originally developed by researchers at the University of South Australia.

The new Cohda Wireless technology enables users to send and receive high quality data, video images and voice communications at about 20 times the current data transfer rates, according to Research Professor Alex Grant, Leader of the Coding and Information Theory Research Group at UniSA’s Institute for Telecommunications Research.

“This is a world first,” Professor Grant said. There is no other company offering a communications network that is specifically designed to work in a mobile environment at these transmission rates.

“Ambulance or police vehicles in emergency situations will be able to drive at high speeds while receiving audible timely instructions that could save the lives of patients being transported to hospital or to transmit incident video footage or other information from the field to command stations,” Professor Grant said.

Existing technology used by emergency services is generally limited to communicating while stationary or travelling at low speeds.

“Utilities supplying existing communications networks require a massive infrastructure of base stations, towers, technicians, fibre optic and microwave links to provide a service, which users have to pay for every time they use it.

“Our wireless system doesn’t require that sort of infrastructure. We create a network by fixing small boxes with antennas to street light poles, bus stops or other structures that require power but no other direct connection for internet or other wireless access. We also place a box in each vehicle so that users can communicate by accessing boxes in the network that link via the internet or other access to their required destination,” Professor Grant said.

“The idea is to make the boxes relatively cheap and have enough boxes or nodes in the network to get continuous coverage across the network. Data collected from the boxes can be sent through the internet link to wherever needed across the world.

“While this technology is designed for local area networks rather than state-wide applications, it has flexibility of deployment. If there is a major disaster in a rural area, we can grab 100 boxes, take them to the affected area, and run them off battery power or generators to produce an instant communications network,” Professor Grant said.

The Cohda wireless network builds itself. Like the internet, it enables any number of users to plug into it and use it. Extending the network to a wider area is done by adding more boxes. If one box fails, it won’t affect the network as long as enough boxes are working, enabling the inactive box to be replaced or fixed at leisure.

Police and other emergency services using Cohda wireless technology don’t need a third party to provide the infrastructure for communications. Instead, they could operate over a secure link from their base operations out into their blanket network of boxes on poles and in vehicles.

“We have taken into account what the police currently pay for network access. Existing solutions may have a similar capital cost, however annual operating costs are very high.

“With our system network owners are part of a different cost structure. With no ongoing operating costs, the cost saver point is quite soon so benefits are huge. In addition, with considerably greater bandwidth available, it is estimated that using our network, officers could write and submit reports while in the field, reducing reporting labour requirements by up to half,” Professor Grant said.

ITR research professors Alex Grant (winner of a Tall Poppy Science Award) and Lars Rasmussen, with former ITR colleague Paul Alexander, were the founding creators for the basis of this smart technology including signal processing techniques, coding and programming that makes the boxes work.

Funding of $2 million has been sourced through a combination of an AusIndustry Research and Development Start Grant, pre-seed funding from SciVentures Investments and ITEK, the wholly owned commercialisation company of the University.

Considerable market interest has been expressed both here and in the United States by potential partners and end users of the technology, according to Cohda Wireless CEO Peter Harriss, who estimates that export sales will generate millions of dollars for the Australian economy in its first five years on the market.

Paul Alexander, now Chief Technical Officer at Cohda Wireless, expects to have the prototype of the digital wireless node ready for pilot trials with Australian and US public transport and public safety agencies by mid 2005.