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P.A.C.T. - Portable Anonymous Communication Technology

Creating global transparency through empowering people to disseminate information anonymously using low cost, portable communication technologies that allow voice, text, pictures, and videos to be shared with each other and the world.

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Introduction

Through the use of various, currently on the market,low-cost communication technologies, we can build a portable, modular, and scalable means for creating global transparency by empowering people with the ability to freely disseminate information without fear of retribution.

By leveraging the modularity and scalability and incorporating it with a P.A.C.T. agreement, the system can be tailored for use in almost any region. Further, by utilizing Project Management Principles, a framework design will be built to enable both planned and emergency deployment of a tailored communications package.

P.A.C.T. Agreement

When goal setting it is often said that writing them down helps one to accomplish the goals because it is a way of formalizing them.This is the underlying tenet of the P.A.C.T. agreement. The agreement is designed as a pact between the operators of technology in the local countries,the local people that are the users of the communication technology, and the partnering agencies such as USAID, Humanity United, and others.

This pact would contain commitments that each party is making to help the local people and will articulate what form that help would take. From the agency standpoint, this could include commitments to provide training on the technology to monitoring a back-end information portals for alerts and responding to those alerts. For those operating the technology,the agreement can specify the importance of operating the equipment and the positive or negative impact of operating/not operating the equipment could have on the people they have committed to help.

The P.A.C.T. agreement would also contain commitments to utilize or facilitate the use of the technology for positive purposes in times other than emergencies. These uses would vary based on the tailored solution for the region or location, but could feasibly include:

  • Local Crime Alerts
  • Sharing Community information, e.g. crop data, weather alerts or warnings, and potentially even educationally based information
  • Other Social Portal information

Modularity

P.A.C.T. as a PlatformDesigned for deployment in a similar fashion to corporate Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, such as Oracle, SAP, and others, P.A.C.T. leverages the platform methodology of using individual modules that can be selected based on ideal fit for each region.

Effectively, each communication technology (CT) selected will become its own module, similar to say the Payroll Module or Human Resources Module of the ERP system. Allowing for plug and play of different technologies for the different locations, which means that with the right mix of CT modules, the solution can be tailored based on the needs or weaknesses of the location. The Modular Design Example graphic that is uploaded, visually exhibits this system modularity.

The design of a CT platform reduces over investment in single architectures that may become obsolete or are expensive and resource intensive to set up and maintain.

Two scenarios to highlight the benefit of P.A.C.T. as a platform:

Scenario 1 – Geographically Remote Environments

Suppose that this location has little risk of hostile forces intentionally shutting down communications simply because there is little existing communication infrastructure to begin with.

After analysis, it is determined that initially, an information relay capability would be best suited and easiest to obtain adoption. P.A.C.T. could take the HPCP module (discussed below), and create a relay network that will allow two-way communication from the remote location into a population center with established communication to the outside world and vice versa. See the Scenario 1 Image attached to the concept.

Since the system is both modular and scalable, which will also be discussed below, at any time a local situation changes, additional HPCP relay points or even different communication modules can be introduced seamlessly into the existing communication plan. Similarly, if an additional information media is needed, such as pictures or videos, a new module can be quickly deployed.

Scenario 2 – Hostile Government Network Disabling

While undertaking the locational assessment, as part of the Project Management Plan, it is determined that a high likelihood exists that the local government will disable or otherwise destroy cellular, radio,and other communication networks.

To support maximum information dissemination, the Wireless UAVs, Pirate Box, and HPCP modules are selected. In choosing these three modules, firsthand accounts through voice, text, picture, and video is enabled, while ensuring those providing the information is done so anonymously.The Scenario 2 Image shows a hypothetical deployment scenario where these three modules could be used.

Scalability

As with any platform, P.A.C.T. is fully scalable without the need for additional capital-intensive infrastructure, as each different CT module is devised of a portable, low-cost, technology that requires zero tie-in to existing communication infrastructure.

Further, P.A.C.T. is quickly scalable in three distinct ways. First, as within Scenario 1, above, individual modules are scalable to the needs and environment. For example, should additional relays be needed to accommodate more than one rural location, adding additional HPCP relay stations is quick and can be done at little cost. Likewise, if the network load on the wireless UAVs becomes too great, adding additional wireless UAVs would quickly improve the situation.

The second method of scalability is the ability to add additional CT modules to an existing location based on need. For example,suppose that in Scenario 1, an anonymous way to transmit pictures or video becomes necessary, one of the other CT modules can be deployed into the region without the need to disrupt the HPCP communication system. This would then allow for more than one type of information to be provided to support personnel, which allows for a more complete picture of events.

Lastly, in terms of scalability, P.A.C.T. is capable of adding new CT modules to its platform as new or additional types of portable communication technologies that support anonymous use become available.

Technology

Introduction

At the core of the concept is the portable, low cost communication technologies that allow for anonymous use. While this limits the selection of potential CT modules, it serves to ensure that those who provide the information cannot be punished and it allows for easy relocation and/or concealment when necessary.

Specifically, three initial technologies have been identified that are currently available and able to be implemented at any time.They are discussed below. Additional technologies would be evaluated as they are brought to market.

Wireless Access on the Fly

Liam Young of Tomorrow's Thoughts Today has debuted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that provide wireless communication as a method to combat oppressive regimes censoring or eliminating access to communications. The project is called Electronic Countermeasures.

These UAVs carry what amounts to wireless base stations that create communication capabilities without the need for a cellular network or access to the internet. This ad hoc network is completely mobile making it difficult to track and locate the UAVs that make the network possible.

These UAVs can also be modified to carry platforms that would allow access to the internet that could be used to get regular messages out to the world even if the local government is blocking standard communication.

Companies, such as IDEO, could collaborate with the developers of the technology to improve the designs possibly making them simpler to use and tailored to purpose. Look at IDEO's re-envision of the shopping cart as example  of their ability to revolutionize a design.

The UAV Utilization Map image,attached to the concept, provides a rough idea at how these UAVs enable voice,text message, pictures, videos, and other digital files to be transmitted to other users and devices connected to the network.

Further, with a mild modification,the operators of these wireless UAVs would be able to push emergency alerts to the devices attached to the network. These alerts could be messages that come from other users or from the operators directly.

Lastly, contrary to what most people’s initial impressions are about UAVs, these are extremely inexpensive, only a couple hundred dollars per unit, and the operation of them is as simple as using a remote controlled toy.

Pirate Box

Developed by NYU Professor David Darts, these boxes cost as low as $50 to make, creating a low cost method for communication. Essentially, these boxes allow for the upload and download of files remotely. Files can be pictures, videos, or other documents.

Additionally, these boxes also have a built-in IRC chat function for users connected to the same box. The users of the box are completely anonymous and it does not track user data making it impossible for users to be identified if the box is discovered.

Deployed with the right network, these boxes could be used to pass information without the need for direct contact or even knowing who the individual on the other end is for safety and security. Nodal or network maps for deployment are completely customizable for the specific region or location. The image attached to this concept show what one of these boxes look like. The pirate image on the box is solely the preference of the individual that built it and does not have to be included on all boxes.

The Scenario 2 Image, attached to the concept, indicates how this technology can be deployed.

High Powered Cordless Phones

As the name suggests, these are simply cordless phones utilizing standard electrical current from existing power grids or generators; however, the transmission power is boosted far beyond what the US FCC authorizes for use in the United States.

Rather than needing to use the telephone hard lines, the system comes with multiple base and handset units that are located at the maximum distance allowable. Then the handsets are free to talk back and forth to each other similar to walkie-talkies all without the need of telephone lines or radio towers. An HPCP base station with four handsets start at around $60 to purchase with no setup costs.

This technology is used extensively by warlords and other criminal elements to avoid unwanted attention from law enforcement and other governmental bodies; and because of the way the technology is employed, intercept and tracking is extremely difficult.

The Scenario 1 Image, attached to the concept,indicates how this technology can be deployed.

Additional Technologies

As previously mentioned, since P.A.C.T. is not an individual technology, but a platform made of various CT technologies, the ability to add new technologies as they come to market provides future flexibility to the platform to constantly stay up to date and refresh its modules as some become antiquated or are rendered unusable by changes in the environment or other local conditions.

As an example, of technologies that are on the horizon and possibly usable out of the box or with minor adaptation, the Robot Dragonfly, attracts attention. These Robot Dragonflies start at around $99 and the higher end models run around $399. The YouTube video of this technology is linked to the concept and is provided here. http://youtu.be/TDuvBurbjVU

There are other technologies that are on the horizon that warrant consideration in being included as a CT module within P.A.C.T.;however, their final development may change this position.

Process Enabled Deployment/Implementation

To facilitate uniform implementation and deployment,P.A.C.T. will utilize Project Management Principles to design a Process Framework.

This process framework will form the basis of a Project Management Plan, and it allows for consistent implementation, which will facilitate rapid deployment to an area in times of emergencies.

Included below is an abbreviated Framework for example and illustration. The final framework could follow this process or be expanded to allow for more detail.

5 – Step Implementation Framework –

Step 1 – Strategic Planning

- Assign the project team – For each location, a team should be created with personnel that are considered to be experts on the location and understand environmental limitations that would impact the module selection

- Examine current communication processes and information flow – The team should perform an analysis on what existing communication lines to the outside world exist from the country. This would include understanding if the local government is actively involved in disabling the communication grid. If possible, the team should start identifying local partners that will be manage and operate the equipment.

Set Objectives – The objectives of P.A.C.T. implementation should be clearly defined. For example, what type of information is needed to communicate; are there additional uses that the technology should serve, etc.

- Develop the Project Plan – The team should develop the plan, which includes the goals, objectives, timelines, CT Modules, training, and stakeholder responsibilities.

Step 2 – Procedure Review

- Review Capabilities – Review the capabilities of the deployment team as it involves operating the chosen CT modules. Fully educate the team so they can train the local operators on the technology

- Identify Manual Processes – Evaluate which communication processes are manual and which that can be automated, e.g. by creating a web site that collects and analyzes data provided via text based methods, or a cataloging of photos and videos

- Develop Standard Operating Procedures –These should include things like metrics that determine the need to add additional or new modules, procedures for introducing these new modules, reporting requirements when incidents are reported, and processes for verifying the information.

Step 3 – Link the location to the Back End Support

- Build the Link – Create a direct portal for information upload in the P.A.C.T. software system or create the form to fill out for the Pirate Boxes, which someone then collects and enters into the database.

Step 4 – Training and Testing

- Pre-test the equipment and software – The project team should test all CT Module equipment being deployed to ensure it is all functional. Additionally, all back end support links should be tested to ensure that the modules are working together properly. If time permits, employ scenario based testing to ensure that the modules are functioning and interacting as designed.

- Training – Train the local operators in the use of the system and its deployment

- Final Testing – Have the newly trained local operators conduct a test similar to that of the pre-testing phase once they have installed the equipment.

Step 5 – Go Live & Evaluation

- Go Live – Have the local operators begin operating the equipment within the guidelines of the P.A.C.T. agreement,ensuring that information flow is occurring.

- Evaluation – Utilize a structured evaluation plan which ties back to the goals and objectives of the project plan. It is important to review to ensure that the appropriate modules are being utilized in the region.

Summary

The above framework has been provided as example of the integration of Project Management Principles to create a standard process for implementation and deployment of P.A.C.T. into any region. Utilization of a framework will help to ensure the optimum use and impact of the communication technologies. The above framework is not necessarily the framework to be employed during realization and full operation. Ultimately, the goal of P.A.C.T. is to empower the people to be able to provide a continuous flow of information to the rest of the world so that help can be provided.

Conclusion

There are other mobile communication options such as portable UHF radios, etc; however,deployment, upkeep, maintenance, and replacement of some of these options are expensive. They also often require other forms of infrastructure that can become targets.

P.A.C.T. modules, like the ones briefly mentioned above, are small,inexpensive, and can be easily concealed. They are also scalable and create a platform for easy deployment in multiple locations.

Specifically, by integrating these technologies into a complete package, simple,effective, and cost-efficient P.A.C.T. networks can be brought online quickly by the individuals in need.

Further, since the chosen technologies all run outside of the traditional communication grids, hostile government interference is minimal.

Finally, P.A.C.T. can add new technology modules to the platform as they become available to help create solutions that are fit for any environment and that can provide a 360 degree view of the situation in these remote, hard-to-access regions, whether they are that way by geography,or design by hostile forces.

How does your idea gather AND verify information? How does your idea keep those who use it safe?

By combining the different Communication Technology Modules with the P.A.C.T. back end support software and databases, P.A.C.T. both fosters gathering of information in multiple formats and allows for verifying that information as a result of the multiple formats.

Specifically, since the CT Modules empower multiple individuals, as opposed to one specific group of people, to disseminate information in a media that supports all education levels, the data received can be crosschecked with the other reports from the region. Essentially, verification of the information would come from multiple anonymous users being allowed to freely send updates that can then be compared to the date from the other users to get a more complete picture and ensure the data being communicated to the outside world is accurate.

Lastly, implementation of multiple low cost modules throughout the affected areas allow for collation of data from numerous sources, which can then be cross checked with the data from each communication system to assist in verifying authenticity. In the end, the more data points present, the more accurate the analysis will be.

How might your idea be designed to scale and spread to help as many people as possible?

As with any platform, P.A.C.T. is fully scalable without the need for additional capital-intensive infrastructure, as each different CT module is devised of a portable, low-cost, technology that requires zero tie-in to existing communication infrastructure.
Further, P.A.C.T. is quickly scalable in three distinct ways. First, as within Scenario 1, above, individual modules are scalable to the needs and environment. For example, should additional relays be needed to accommodate more than one rural location, adding additional HPCP relay stations is quick and can be done at little cost. Likewise, if the network load on the wireless UAVs becomes too great, adding additional wireless UAVs would quickly improve the situation.

The second method of scalability is the ability to add additional CT modules to an existing location based on need. For example, suppose that in Scenario 1, an anonymous way to transmit pictures or video becomes necessary, one of the other CT modules can be deployed into the region without the need to disrupt the HPCP communication system. This would then allow for more than one type of information to be provided to support personnel, which allows for a more complete picture of events.

Therefore, in terms of scalability, P.A.C.T. is capable of adding new CT modules to its platform as new or additional types of portable communication technologies that support anonymous use become available.
So, in terms of specific modules, a Pirate Box costs as little as $50 and can be placed as independent units virtually anywhere, and only requires people to know of their existence. They can easily be relocated or simply add more boxes where needed.

Additionally, the wireless access UAVs are also small and require limited knowledge to operate, allowing for a network to be made from a couple of devices to thousands of devices around an area. Scalability is as simple as adding another handheld UAV.

Lastly, the same principle exists for the HPCP. Simply by adding additional base stations with handsets, the network can grow as large as needed.

How might your idea make use of exisiting technology? Has your idea been tried in a different or related context?

As mentioned, all three initial communication technologies exist presently with some needing possible small improvements for mass adoption, while others are ready to be used now with simple implementation.

Specifically, HPCP is utilized in remote places like Afghanistan to allow covert communications over extensive distances.

Other technologies could be reviewed, including one or more of the technologies contained in other challenge concepts. Once approved, these technologies can then be integrated as a CT module into the P.A.C.T. platform.

How could you begin prototyping this idea in a simple way to begin testing and refining it? Who would use your idea and/or who is using it now? Is your idea technically easy medium or hard to implement?

No prototypes are necessary as the technology exists for the purposes described.

These technologies could be used by NGO's, Aid organizations, and even every day individuals with little training requirements.

Pirate Box's and HPCP are relatively easy to implement, while the wireless UAVs will have medium difficulty for implementation as they will need more training on their use.

How is your idea adapted for conditions in hard-to-access areas, such as lack of internet and mobile access? Can users adopt it without much behavior change?

As mentioned, since P.A.C.T. is a platform made up of individual communication technology modules, it is able to tailor the different solutions to each environment. The two scenarios discussed above show how the platform can create a solution for hard-to-access areas resulting from both geography and from hostile governments disabling external communications.


In terms of adoption, these CT modules all work similar to existing communication networks, which are as simple as connect and go or pick up the phone and talk, which reduces the need to change behaviors.

The wireless access UAVs will require some individuals to learn how to deploy and operate them while they are up, and it would be advised to create a "time-up" schedule prior to implementation in an area. For example, the operators know to operate the UAVs only at specified times to reduce exposure.

Evaluation results

20 evaluations so far

1. How scalable would this idea be across regions and cultures?

Looks like it’d be easy to spread across multiple regions and cultures - 42.1%

This idea could scale but it might need further iteration to make it widely relevant - 57.9%

Seems that this idea would best be suited for a single region/population - 0%

2. Would a lot of resources be required to create a pilot for this idea? (think time, capacity, money, etc)

This idea looks easy to pilot with minimal resources being invested - 35%

Feels like this idea could take a moderate amount of resources to pilot - 40%

Seems like piloting this idea would take a lot of resources - 25%

3. How suitable is this idea for various challenges on the ground such as lack of internet or mobile access?

Yep, it feels like it could work easily beyond internet or mobile access - 52.6%

Not so sure – it looks like it would require online or mobile connectivity - 36.8%

This idea definitely seems to rely on internet or mobile access - 10.5%

4. Could this idea put users or others at risk?

Nope, it looks like everyone would be safe - 50%

There are some potential concerns, but these could be addressed with further iteration - 35%

I can imagine some people being put at risk with this idea - 15%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

This idea rocked my world - 52.6%

I liked it but preferred others - 10.5%

It didn't get me overly excited - 36.8%

33 comments

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Photo of Lee
Team

[Reposting comment here as I thought I was commenting on the concept, instead of the Inspiration you posted earlier. Sorry for the double-comment]

Hi Richard, after considering the situational constraints you mentioned in the other thread, I've thought about this a bit more. If we take the most extreme circumstance, we have a group of people in a remote, hard-to-access area that is being blocked by hostile forces. Mobile and internet communications are down because the towers have been destroyed. Landlines are dead because the wires have been cut. These people are literally off the grid.

So, how can they be enabled to nonetheless send signals to each other and the outside world. If they are really remote enough, I think it is a safe assumption to say that some form of technology will be needed to communicate. Further, this technology should allow for two-way communication, i.e. communication by the people and not simply surveillance, as you say. So they will have to have some kind of technology, and they will have to get access to it. This means either they are provided with the tech before hostilities begin, or they are given it once they're cut off. The latter would be done either by infiltrating the area somehow, or more practically, flying tech in via airplanes or UAVs.

Given what you've described, it had also occurred to me to re-enable mobile and radio networks via UAVs providing this network. To decrease the chance they would be shot down, they should only be flown at night. I think the downside to this is that it would be expensive, both in the technology itself as well as having pilots to actually fly these things. So it feels more like a special ops kind of solution, if we want to talk to someone specifically, know they have a cellphone, and need to get them temporary network access.

Another approach that occurred to me that would be trying to tackle the same problem - disabled mobile networks - is instead of using UAVs to fly over areas, why not drop many small radio transmitters over an area that would form a mesh network to provide communication. This is inspired by RadioBlock that I just came across: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/545073874/radioblock-simple-radio-for-arduino-or-any-embedde

Honestly I'm not sure of the technical feasibility, but my (perhaps simplistic) thinking would go like this: if one could build a small, cheap radio transmitter built into a solar panel, these devices could be dropped intermittently (depending on their range) over a target area. If designed properly, they could get caught up and rest on top of dense forest canopy for example. If enough are dropped close to each other, they would form a mesh network that enables communication.

The benefits:
1) Hard to locate and therefore disable
2) Taking out one radio transmitter doesn't shut down the network
3) Can be deployed remotely by plane or UAV at night
4) Should be cheaper than a fleet of UAVs

What do you think, did that make sense?

In general, I like the approach of trying of seeing how disabled networks could be re-enabled or replaced without having to enter a given geography.

By the way, thanks for the PirateBox example, I feel inclined to build one now.

Cheers,
- Lee

Photo of Richard
Team

Lee, I am on the road, so internet is presently limited to the phone, so I will repky quickly about the UAV comments and respond more fully when I can fire up the laptop. These UAVs I mention are small. Think like the size of those remote control helicopters you see at the kiosks in the mall. They are incredibly inexpensive and designed for use by anyone. Also, they are quiet and difficult to hear and see. I may not have been clear in my concept, so I will edit that. Thank you for calling it to my attention. I will get to the rest of this tomorrow.

Photo of Richard
Team

Lee,

I am now back at the office, and noticed a couple of telephone spelling errors. Haha.

OK, so quickly to the salient points:

The idea of the mesh network as part of a pirated communication network is a great addition. Perhaps, we can reach out to the individual with the other inspiration and collaborate. I have not personally played with mesh networks in a couple of years, so cost implications concern me based on my old knowledge. As technology improves, I am sure the costs of building mesh networks has decreased.

Lastly, as I briefly mentioned, the specific UAV platform I mentioned utilizes very small. These are not identical to the ones I mentioned, but the size is similar and the site contains a video. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/robot-dragonfly-micro-aerial-vehicle

I have not spoken to the creators of these to see if they could carry the wireless access platforms like the ones I mentioned; hence why I left them out in the initial.

The benefits of these UAVs are that they are as simple to operate as a remote controlled car, are whisper quiet, and under the right light scenarios (such as operating at night as you suggest), are almost impossible to detect visually.

The drawback I see for this type of deployment is that, at this point, I believe they all have to be operated line of sight, specifically meaning that the person with the remote has to be able to see the UAV. This is where I think getting the IDEO team involved to take the existing platform and trying to equip it with a night/IR camera that transmits back to a screen on the remote allowing the operator to be able to fly it without seeing it. Perhaps creating a remote hybrid that runs off of a smartphone would be a simple solution.

Photo of Richard
Team

*very small remote controlled devices. Brain got ahead of my typing.

Photo of Karoline
Team

Hi you two. Just wanted to pass on some information about the opportunity to apply for small grants through humanity united. They've got a pool designed to facilitate innovation and scale in humanitarian and emergency assistance worldwide. The small grants given would range up to £20,000 (or approx. US$32,000). More info about the fund and application process here http://bit.ly/17T9Nzf It's looks like a great opportunity to bring some of the ideas in here to life. Unfortunately, I'm still in school, and unable to take my idea 'People's Radio' further or apply for grants, but anyone from the community who might want to are super welcome to do so. Richard, if you're in a similar position, you might want to reach out to members of your virtual team and see if they're interested in taking the idea further. Exciting!
Cheers, Karoline

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