Droid Does… (aka the Disaster Communications App)

July 14, 2010

Access to communications technology is AWESOME, but not everyone has it. Cell phone towers are expensive and developing, remote, rural, and/or disaster ridden areas often don’t have those resources.

Expose an already weak communications infrastructure to the destruction of a natural disaster, and you have our collective nightmare: Asia circa 2004, Haiti, and the site of the next international incident. When chaos strikes, the speed and proficiency of local relief effort coordination translates directly to saved lives. With those critical moments in mind, Paul Gardner-Stephen (a post-doctoral fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia) founded The Serval Project.

The project goal is to, literally, give voice to communities outside the grid. The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences granted the project $1,000 in May 2010 to fund the adaptation of the Android OS for disaster relief communications.

Paul and his colleagues have spent the past few months writing software to create instant, decentralized, P2P phone networks. The equipment requirements are used Android handsets and Village Telco’s “Mesh Potato” (a lightweight, low-cost, and low-power unit that serves as a building block for ad hoc networks). A key feature of Gardner-Stephen’s system allows users to send and receive messages using their actual cell phone number. With this rapidly deployed, cheap, and robust system, it is conceivable that local ground efforts could begin within moments of a disaster.

This week the prototype was field tested in the South Australian desert and passed with flying colors! Click here to see the local ABC affiliate coverage of their adventures in the Outback. It’s AWESOME, but don’t take our word for it. See the technology in action for yourself during our fellowship party at the Venture Cafe in the Cambridge Innovation Center on Sat, July 24th @ 6PM.