February 23, 2004
Never underestimate the bandwidth of a WiFi-enabled bus

This is downright cool - it's a project to bring Internet access to remote locations by means of solar power, wireless access points, and data transmissions via buses or motorcycles. Here's a press release from one of their projects in Cambodia.

BANLUNG, Ratanakiri, Cambodia, September 1, 2003. A project launched today in one of the world's most remote regions, Ratanakiri in northeastern Cambodia, will bring e-mail to 13 villages that have no telecommunications and can mostly be reached only by motorbike or ox-cart.

These villages have no water, electricity, phones, cell phone access nor television or newspaper delivery. They are far from health centers. Per capita annual income is under $40. But they now have e-mail.

At these villages' new schools which are equipped with solar panels on the roof to provide sufficient energy to run a computer for six hours, there is now an e-mail link via a motorcycle delivery system.

Early every morning, five Honda motorcycles leave the hub in the provincial capitol of Banlung where a satellite dish, donated by Shin Satellite, links the provincial hospital and a special skills school to the Internet for telemedicine and computer training. The moto drivers equipped with a small box and antenna at the rear of their vehicle, that downloads and delivers e-mail through
a wi-fi (wireless) card, begin the day by collecting the e-mail from the hub's dish, which takes just a few seconds.

Then, as they pass each school and one health center, they transmit the messages they downloaded and retrieve any outgoing mail queued in the school or health center computer that is also equipped with a similar book-sized transmission box, and go on to the next school. At the end of the day they return to the hub to transmit all the collected e-mail to the Internet for any point on the globe.

Each school also has a computer and e-mail-trained young teacher graduated from the Future Light Orphanage in Phnom Penh, including four women, who are the village computer teacher and e-mail postmaster. The children in the village are being trained to take over this function in a couple of years.

You may wonder what good this will do for a village that has no water, electricity, or phones. Well, I'll tell you.

Children in the school are able to communicate with their donors overseas and tell them what they need for their school and studies; they can also communicate with other children in other villages via attachments typed in the Khmer font; teachers can send and receive reports and directives from the ministry of education; the village health worker can report instances of illness and send digital photos of such patients to obtain guidance from the provincial referral hospital and beyond from the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the U.S. which is already linked into a telemedicine program with the provincial hospital; any villager can send a message or grievance directly to the governor who has such an e-mail unit in his office and welcomes village communications to which he has pledged to respond. Newspapers can transmit their pages to the villages; villagers can announce their handicraft products and order goods from the market. Many other uses of this system will be developed by the villagers themselves.

Like I said, pretty doggone cool - the friend who emailed this to me said "think UUCP, but with cars instead of modems". Cheap, too - check the specs and ordering info. Nice to know that it is possible to actually make the world a better place, isn't it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 23, 2004 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack