Designing a combined personal communicator and data entry terminal for disaster relief & remote operations

Paul Gardner-Stephen, Angus Wallace, Lucas Moss, Loic Lagadec, Matthew Lloyd

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The commoditization of powerful, portable and affordable mobile communications devices has transformed disaster response and remote data collection. Where in the past field workers would fill in damage assessment and other forms using pencil and paper, there are now a wide variety of digital tools that can run on low-cost smartphones and tablets, and have the potential to capture information in real-time, and make it available to decision makers. Also, such devices allow operational agencies to more effectively track their field teams, to ensure that they remain as safe as possible at all times. However, this transformation is not complete, and not without challenges. In particular, keeping digital devices powered, connected and secure are recurring themes. While a variety of solutions already exist in this space, they are not without their draw-backs. For example, energy can be supplied by carrying additional batteries and solar panels, which means carrying more devices. Communications can be enabled in remote areas by using a BGAN satellite internet terminal, however these are bulky, expensive to buy and even more expensive to operate - costing as much as $1 every two seconds. Iridium Short Burst Data (SBD) is a cheaper and smaller alternative, but still requires carrying an extra device, and the very low data rates it provides are very limiting. Maintaining security on tablets and phones is a problem well known for it complexities and pitfalls, including the lack of long-term vendor support. Indeed, the rapid evolution of tablets and phones presents difficulties in ensuring that the required capabilities remain compatible and well integrated with the evolving operating systems of these devices. We therefore propose that there exists a gap for a device that is more specifically tailored to the requirements of humanitarian and remote field work. Such a device should ideally be a single physical device that is self-sufficient for both energy and remote communications, and that is radically easier to secure, and can be supported over the long-term, without the need to continually modify the desired applications, just to keep them running. We present our work on creating exactly such a device: A tablet-like device that includes cellular, satellite, UHF packet radio and mesh communications capabilities, is radically simpler to secure, and is an open-design that can be used and supported over many years, without requiring unaffordable non-returnable engineering costs. Specifically, we present proof-of-concept hardware, and decisive evidence that despite the relatively low computational performance, that it remains capable enough to meet a number of identified use-cases.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2019 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, GHTC 2019
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781728117805
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Event9th Annual IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, GHTC 2019 - Seattle, United States
Duration: 17 Oct 201920 Oct 2019

Publication series

Name2019 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, GHTC 2019


Conference9th Annual IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, GHTC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • disaster preparedness
  • disaster response
  • mobile communication
  • communication devices
  • data collection


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