With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, millions of Americans face the possibility of losing cell, Internet and landline service. This loss of connectivity also impacts first responders, who often have difficulty organizing and communicating during their attempts to save lives and property. It's time for a better means of disaster communications.
LifeNet might be the answer. The innovative software lets people communicate wirelessly, even after a natural disaster has disabled cell service, the Internet and landline communications. Fast Company writes that LifeNet, developed by researchers at Georgia Tech University, is basically a piece of code that users can place on their laptop or phone.
"Once you have the software, the computers can communicate with each other, and you don't need infrastructure," Santosh Vempala, the Georgia Tech computer science professor in charge of the project, told Fast Company.
LifeNet enables any device to become a host and a router for the network. That lets users create a chain of communication, with the software routing information to and from each LifeNet device.
For now, though, the software only works if users are fairly close to each other: up to 1 kilometer outdoors and only a couple hundred feet indoors. But as Vempala told Fast Company, "you could have a line of people on this network that are spaced 100 yards apart, and the line could go as long as you want."
The software is still in the testing phases, but the developers plan to bring it to market soon. And while it's not a perfect answer to the disaster communications question, it's an affordable step in the right direction. Too bad it won't be ready to help out the East Coast this weekend.