Network Strategically (using Mesh Potato Networking)
Low cost community owned and controlled wireless networking (Mesh Potato is just one) can allow communication between strategic dwellings. They could be combined with other initiatives e.g. installing solar lighting or other 'off-grid' utilities.
Wireless Mesh Networking is developing rapidly, largely for use in 'Village Telecommunications' where access to conventional communication and often power are lacking.
Mesh Potato is a small (4x3x1 inch) wireless access point which reportedly can be deployed in multipoint to multipoint networks quite quickly and easily. Each unit is rated at 2.5W which means it can be powered from a range of sources including small solar panels. Built as wifi devices they can be deployed on rooftops to build networks quickly in urban, suburban, rural and remote environments.
In urban and suburban situations deployment might be straighforward, whereas in rural and remote areas deployment might best be combined with other technologies such as solar or dynamo powered lanterns (from places like
barefoot power) designed to replace kerosene lanterns. Thus a project to benefit the community generally could be used to strategically deploy communications at the same time.
What kind of resources are needed to get this idea off the ground and/or support it over time?
The Mesh Potato multipoint mesh technology is already being deployed in a number of developing communities, as is the solar lighting technology. Reviewing the performance of these deployments would provide good background for successful deployment elsewhere.
Economies of scale could be employed where dual deployment is feasible.
Mesh Potato has apparently already developed a free app. for some smart platforms to allow smartphones to access the network. This poses a potential weakpoint which would have to be overcome by some sort audible signalling (password,keyword in conversation) etc. On the other hand development or adaptation of panic/medical type alert systems would suit some Amnesty International purposes and also be suited to deployment for original purposes if hospitals or medical support teams were included in the network.
Although originally designed for developing economies (and priced reasonably at about US$120) networked units could be used as a viable alternative to PSTN and public mobile networks for supporting communities at risk.
They have also been tested as support for emergency and similar field support situations such as forest fires, floods and other natural disasters.
Collaboration between Amnesty/Support Groups and developers would probably be straightforward with (presumably) volume discount for purchases.
Even if transmission of lengthy conversations was to become limited by low power or other situations the transmission of emergency signals would probably be possible.
My Virtual Team
How could this idea also be adapted to work in low-tech situations?
Clearly being centred around an electronic communication device, that device represents the base level of technology on which solutions could be built, but some aspects of this idea are already geared towards low technology. Firefly (amongst others) provides some solutions for human generated power - bicycles, see-saws. Given the low power consumption of an individual device a variety of emergency power supplies such as hand-cranked dynamos, lead acid batteries etc. would suffice to provide short transmission into the network.