Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ushahidi's rugged BRCK, the backup generator for the internet

Sometimes, when you need access to the web the most is when it's most likely to be hard to find. It could even be a matter of life or death. So having a backup connection that you can carry in your pocket, that will work from Windhoek to Williamsburg, sounds like a good idea. That's the concept behind Ushahidi's BRCK.
Ushahidi is a powerful platform for crowdsourcing data in less than ideal conditions, be they because of a natural disaster or simply because of a lack of infrastructure. It's been used effectively, for example, in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 Kenyan elections, the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, generating maps for the emergency services and documenting eyewitness testimonies.
The kind of rugged environments that Ushahidi was created for are also the kinds of places where web access can be decidedly unreliable at best. That's why Ushahidi has developed BRCK -- a wireless, battery-powered modem that aims to help users connect to the web no matter where they are in the world.
Described as "the backup generator for the internet", BRCK can support up to 20 devices connected at once, has a tough exterior shell and an eight hour battery life so it can sit out any blackouts. Like a smartphone, it can connect to the web via ethernet, Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G, shifting between them dependent on service.
Each BRCK is connected to the BRCK Cloud, which lets users check on their BRCK from anywhere in the world even if they're not directly connected to it and, if needed, set up alerts and applications. More importantly, the cloud contains information about the mobile phone networks in each country, so BRCKs can be configured to the latest settings as and when needed. The package is designed so that, even without electricity, you've got the best chance possible of connecting to the web.
Right now BRCK is a prototype, but Ushahidi is raising funds on Kickstarter to put BRCK into production, with more than $80,000 (£52,000) of the $125,000 (£81,000) goal raised so far.
The Ushahidi team write: "Our software has been used for blizzards in Washington DC, hurricanes in the US, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and election monitoring around the world. BRCK is our answer to a fundamental problem that arises during these situations and during the daily life of much of the world: the need for reliable connections in unpredictable environments."
"Our motto has always been 'if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere'."

Ushahid's rugged BRCK, the backup generator for the internet by Ian Steadman

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