Technology to help communities predict natural disasters Special

Posted Dec 26, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Semtech’s LoRa technology, combines low-power wide area network sensors, wireless technology, and sophisticated algorithms, to help scientists to better predict earthquakes and volcanoes. To discover more we spoke with Vivek Mohan from Semtech.
Volcano Copahue. Chile and Argentina issued red alert for eruptive activity of this active Andean vo...
Volcano Copahue. Chile and Argentina issued red alert for eruptive activity of this active Andean volcano in the south of Chile.
Almost each week there is news of another natural disaster. While much of the coverage focuses on the event and its after effects, technology companies around the world are working on solutions to help communities predict -- and better prepare for natural disasters.
One company leading the way is Semtech. The company has developed LoRa technology, a technology that brings together low-power wide area network sensors, wireless technology, and sophisticated algorithms, to help technologists to better predict earthquakes and volcanoes.
To find out how the technology works and the benefits it can bring to different regions of the world, Digital Journal caught up with Vivek Mohan from Semtech.
Digital Journal: Thank you for the interview Vivek. What are the current limitations with predicting natural disasters?
Vivek Mohan: Network infrastructure and connectivity, financial constraints, and communication are huge limitations to predicting natural disasters. So many natural disasters occur in underdeveloped regions of the world where their network deployments are not yet developed. Even in the U.S., a lapse in connectivity for a network that transmits data from weather reference points can ensure an early warning alarm to alert the community. Communication is often overlooked as a limitation in this area.
Effectively communicating risk and expressing the severity of a weather event can make all the difference in saving lives—and that’s at the heart of all these efforts, saving lives.
DJ: What types of technological solutions can be applied to disaster prediction?
Mohan: Across the spectrum of IoT technologies, there are people applying devices and networks to mitigate impacts of future natural disasters and help deploy early warning systems. Disaster prediction is more than studying weather patterns. It involves identifying hazard areas and potential triage zones on maps, facilitating communication through platforms that don’t depend on cellular networks or land lines (Bluetooth), and even synchronization of patient data and medical records to ensure proper care in the event of a natural disaster. Sensors and meters are in use already to provide early warning systems for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Developing sensors with greater sensitivity and greater data capabilities, and deploying them quickly and cost-effectively will help with disaster prediction efforts. Creating IoT networks of weather base stations in the Caribbean can serve as early warning systems for hurricanes and tropical storms. Analyzing years of historical data on weather patterns and previous natural disasters can help identify timing and severity of future weather events and mobilize local authorities.
On Wednesday in the early afternoon  an earthquake struck Southern Ontario  parts of Quebec and New ...
On Wednesday in the early afternoon, an earthquake struck Southern Ontario, parts of Quebec and New York state. The earthquake's epicenter was about 61 km (38 miles) north of Ottawa near the Quebec-Ontario border.
Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, National Earthquake Information Center
DJ: Please explain how Semtech's LoRa Technology works?
Mohan: Semtech has developed LoRa Technology, a long-range, low-power wireless chipset for use in IoT applications. Key features of LoRa Technology include long-range, low-power capabilities, end-to-end AES128 encryption, geolocation without GPS, and the relay of data via LoRaWAN networks. These chipsets are used in sensors and end-nodes for IoT applications to collect and relay data, which is communicated bi-directionally using the LoRaWAN protocol.
A typical flow of data starts with the sensor or end-node collecting information from its particular application. The data is then transmitted to the nearest LoRa-enabled gateway, which is connected to a LoRaWAN Network and then transmits the data to a Cloud server. After transmitting the data, the information is sent to the end user via a mobile or desktop app.
DJ: What level of accuracy and range does the system have?
Mohan: LoRa-enabled devices have a range up to 30 miles and we are constantly working to increase that upper limit. Our devices also have range benefits in dense urban areas in which other technologies cannot penetrate buildings at a certain depth. LoRa-enabled devices record location, speed, and direction, allowing for tracking of moving objects.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake  with an epicentre near the to...
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, with an epicentre near the town of Léogâne, approximately 25 km west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
Wikimedia Commons
DJ: Is the technology expensive?
Mohan: LoRa Technology’s key benefits are its long-range, low-power capabilities and its low costs of adoption. For example, it can cost a company as little as $20 USD per month to maintain network connectivity for a fleet of hundreds of vehicles. LoRa was designed with affordability and quick deployments in mind. The per-unit cost is low and the low bandwidth demand keeps the data costs low as well.
DJ: How about the LoRaWAN network protocol, how does this differ?
Mohan: LoRaWAN is the network protocol that allows LoRa-enabled devices to communicate. The devices can gather the data, but if they can’t transmit that data then it’s of no use to the end user. LoRaWAN connects LoRa-based devices to your phone, or tablet, or desktop. The specifications for LoRaWAN, maintained by the LoRa Alliance, allow for global interoperability among LoRa sensors, gateways and end-nodes. Standardization is crucial in the world of IoT, and LoRaWAN promotes the adoption of Semtech’s LoRa Technology on a global scale.
DJ: How do you make the information available to interested parties?
Mohan: We have sales representatives around the world that handle customer inquiries in different nations and regions, including the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and Africa. Visit Semtech’s website to learn more about LoRa Technology.
DJ: Are there any other technologies that you are working on?
Mohan: We recently announced the LoRa-enabled tag, a disposable, ultrathin and low-cost tag that can be integrated into disposable systems or attached to assets to communicate a specific trigger of an event. The LoRa-enabled tag is equipped with an ultra-thin printed battery and is designed to be integrated into products or systems that send messages to the Cloud when a simple event is detected.
It is expected to enable the proliferation of completely new types of IoT applications, requiring real-time, reliable feedback including logistics/shipping applications, healthcare and pharmaceutical applications, asset tracking applications, and general-purpose compliance applications.