We're out at Intel's annual tech showcase, the Intel Developer Forum, where the first day of proceedings (the so called Day Zero) has been focussed on Intel's involvement in disaster recovery technology, including a solar powered Atom-based web server and disposable, tennis ball sized sensors for throwing into burning buildings.
Kicking proceedings off, the company talked about how natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, heat waves, and tornadoes impacted about 3% of the world's population last year, causing £123.9billion worth of damage. Yet despite this, 57% of small businesses have no disaster recovery plan.
The solution, amongst other things, claims Intel, is to backup your data off site. A few years ago this was an expensive and difficult thing to achieve but with the rapid growth of cloud-based storage, even the most modest of businesses can have robust data backup. While the corporate message here is all too clear, there's no denying the truth of this logic.
On a grander scale, Bob Marshall from Earth Networks demonstrated how the use of new sensing techniques, better communication and faster processing (Intel powered of course) can result in order of magnitude reductions in the time it takes to detect catastrophic weather conditions. For instance, using new lightning detection techniques that analyse not just the frequency of ground-striking lightning but also the in-cloud level, the company was able to predict the path and severity of the weather front that lead to the tornado in Springfield, Massachusetts early this year. Using traditional radar based detection techniques, forecasters were only able to predict the severe tornado 10 minutes before it hit the town, whereas Earth Networks had picked it up nearly an hour earlier. Sadly the technology is only deployed to work in retrospect at the moment but with time the company hopes to have it working in real time.
Another project the company is working on is using historical CO2 level data from weather stations along with geographical topography data to actually work out where CO2 has come from and how it has moved around the earth over time. This it hopes will be useful in finding out what the level of impact on the earth's CO2 levels man has had.
Moving from the theoretical demonstrations to more physical ones, various parts of Intel's vast research arm were showing off their latest disaster recovery tech. The most intriguing of these was a solar powered Atom-based web server. This uses internal batteries to store the power generated from solar panels to then power a web server that on its front end uses a basic Wi-Fi connection while the backend can be anything from a mobile phone using 3G, a satellite phone or, as in the trial it had so far been used for, a helicopter. The latter literally has a helicopter fly around remote regions automatically sending out updated data to the server and picking up requests from the server for data to pick up next time it returns to base. The prototype was somewhat thrown together but the idea is that it's low power enough that a shoebox-sized ruggedised version could be made and they could literally be tossed out of helicopters into remote regions affected by disaster.
On a similar front, another project is working on disposable chemical detectors. These tennis ball sized devices, which contain a battery able to last around 45 mins and some basic chemical detection circuitry, could be thrown by rescue teams into burning or collapsed buildings to sniff for hazardous gases or other harmful substances, all to help inform the aid effort.
Little of it will help lead to us getting ever cheaper and smarter laptops or smartphones but it's nice to know the big corporations of the world do sometimes look at the bigger picture as well.