Max Maurice is an Electronics Engineer and Principal Investigator for the Highly Mobile Deployed Networks project at the Public Safety Communications Research division (PSCR) of NIST. Mr. Maurice’s research at PSCR is focused on bringing drone technology to first responder agencies to ensure consistent communications in hard to reach areas.
PSCR’s communications team interviewed Mr. Maurice to learn more about his research and his upcoming on-demand session at PSCR 2021 The Digital Experience.
Can you describe your current role and what you’re researching at PSCR?
MM: I'm a researcher within PSCR for the Highly Mobile Deployed Networks project. The project is specifically sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) and is one of the interagency partnerships PSCR has with the other federal agencies.
In general, the project investigates how we can make public safety communication technologies more robust in the face of first responders’ often unique use cases. We have proposed and researched several topics (to DHS) in the past, and our primary focus has been to investigate mobile broadband systems and their use by the public safety community. So we’ve considered a lot with this concept—everything from local application services, to wireless access technologies, to the delivery platform of what these things are. In a nutshell, we're trying to provide broadband connectivity and application services to first responders wherever they go.
How did you get into your current role? Can you describe what compelled you to get involved in this type of work?
MM: I got my current role here by first interning with PSCR while I was finishing my undergraduate degree. I was first drawn to PSCR in general because of NIST’s great reputation and the idea of wireless communications. I think this stuff is magic.
One of the main reasons I'm still here is because of how important it is to help advance public safety in what they're doing. One surprising fact that I learned a few years ago from one of our conferences at PSCR is that paper maps are still in use today by our nation's firefighters. We see firefighters on the news all the time battling wildfires in California and Colorado. In this modern era, they’re using paper maps with markers to organize themselves. I think we can do better.
What is your favorite part of your job? And/or what has been your favorite project to work on?
MM: My favorite part of the job is going out and actually doing in-the-field measurements and tests. I know oftentimes academic researchers conduct their research in labs.
Here at PSCR, particularly on the Highly Mobile Deployed Networks project, we’re out in the field with equipment doing measurements, encountering things that we did not think about before, having things get messed up and thrown off— but it’s realistic.
What do you see as the opportunity for drone technology for public safety?
MM: I see a huge opportunity for increasing situational awareness for an incident commander and his or her team. Not only can a drone provide a bird's-eye view of the situation, but there is untapped potential to make that same system a communications relay. So as public safety is fleshing out their drone programs, we’re going to see drones as multi-purpose tools, not just a camera.
I think the number one function is going to be a communications relay. That communications relay can provide teams with information on where everyone is and where all their assets are. That information is priceless for an operation. It cuts down on chatter on their land-mobile radios (LMRs), it leads to faster responses to all the events, and it can provide a better approach for first responders to conduct their missions, whatever they may be.
What problem(s) do you think this technology will solve? What will the impact be?
MM: When a first responder’s phone is working and it's in coverage, it can do all these amazing things. What happens if they are outside of the coverage zone or coverage is compromised in some way? The aerial communication system provided by a drone is supposed to be the invisible hand that continues service.
As an example, first responders responding to a wildland fire have various fire lines that they dig trenches in and then they try to ensure the fire does not advance past a certain point. The fire lines are very dynamic and can change by the hour. The same can be expected with first responder positions, depending on the events of a wildland fire. Coordinating all of the personnel, assets, and vehicles— anything at that scene—can be very complicated.
An aerial system can provide access to broadband data. That way, firefighters are not relaying all of this information by voice. It’s really about providing efficient delivery of data or efficient situational awareness.
Tell me about your on-demand session at PSCR 2021!
MM: The session this year is about the aerial LTE measurements that have been taken over the past seven or eight months. The session is going to break down the project as a whole and what we’re researching specifically. The primary question we’re seeking to answer is, what do you do if you put an LTE system on a horizontal flight drone (or fixed-wing drone) rather than a multi-rotor craft.
In my on-demand session, we break down what the differences are between using these two different types of drones. We will talk about some of the testing we did with an LTE system on a drone and having it in orbit. We’ll also discuss best practices if anyone wants to conduct similar operations. I’m really excited about this session—it is one of the best presentations we’ve had over the last three or four years of this project. I hope everyone gets the chance to check it out.
Why should people attend your Aerial LTE Network Testing session at PSCR 2021 The Digital Experience?
MM: For one, it’s really interesting. We’re talking about the magic of cellular technology put on a drone serving a first responder. We present some ideas—and there is an accompanying paper with this presentation. We want people to actually implement, try out, give us feedback, and engage with us on the research we are doing.