510pen (pronounced five-one-open, based on the local area code 510) was initiated in 2009 with a series of mesh routers located in private homes and local businesses around Oakland. The project went on hiatus due to shifting priorities of the primary organizers. 510pen has recently been rebooted in the form of a small commited group working out of the downtown Oakland hackerspace sudo room. The sets of problems being worked on can be split into social and technical:
Building a backbone of point-to-point line of sight rooftop wifi mesh nodes to bootstrap the reach of the network
- The mesh right now has very few nodes that are directly connected (as opposed to connected over the Internet), which makes the usefulness of the mesh questionable in disaster and extreme censorship scenarios.
- We've been focusing on finding a simple and inexpensive solution for point to point rooftop nodes in order to create a far reaching backbone of high-bandwidth interconnected nodes. Currently we're testing a solution using recycled small satelitte dishes with cheap usb wifi adapters mounted and weatherproofed at the dish's point of focus. Inexpensive computers such as a raspberry pi can then, when hooked up to one or more of these nodes, connect rooftops more than a mile apart. Finding people willing to host rooftop equipment and others willing to donate unused satelitte dishes has become another way we engage with the local community.
Mesh coverage of local areas from connected nodes using powerful omnidirectional wifi equipment
- 510pen currently uses a variety of mesh routers from open-mesh.com. Some of them have good coverage, but they are all currently mounted indoors, which inhibits street coverage and mesh links between blocks.
- Better outdoor omnidirectional routers need to be purchased, tested and installed.
Low bandwidth disaster recovery mesh
- The likeliest disaster scenario in the bay area is a mayor earthquake. Such an event is likely to disrupt many wifi nodes, and especially finely tuned point to point links.
- We're building a separate mesh using low-bandwidth, long range radio communication that will run something like a decentralized twitter, where short text messages can be shared and synchronized as radio links are available.
- To implement this, we're using $12 off the shelf tv tuners that can be used as receive-only general-purpose digital radios. Transmission is stil being worked out, but the current idea is that receive-hardware is cheap enough that 2 gig bootable usb sticks, tv tuners and very simple home-made antennas can be distributed both before and after a disaster, and that these will allow people to set up local stations where updates about local resources such as shelters, food and power can be accessed, while stations capable of transmitting new messages will be fewer (possibly requiring more expensive hardware) but will announce their locations such that anyone can walk to a local transmit station if they want to send a message out on the mesh.
Community-Based Participatory Action Research in the San Antonio district of Oakland
- We are currently researching existing community organizations in the San Antonio neighborhood for potential collaboration, and have established relationships with (and set up mesh nodes for) three grassroots organizations in the San Antonio neighborhood: Liberating Ourselves Locally (LOL), a makerspace run by and for people of color; Sustaining Ourselves Locally (SOL), a community garden and food justice advocacy and education space; and Cycles of Change, a community bike repair, advocacy and education space. Moving forward, we intend to expand the mesh through reaching out to grassroots organizations and local businesses, our process of designing and deploying mesh services guided by the needs and desires of existing community actors.
- The ethnographic research component of the project also involves interviewing local residents, designing and distributing community surveys, historical and political analysis, and asset mapping of existing and potential community resources.
Documentation of use cases and user stories
- Articulating use cases for mesh networks involves the creation of user stories based on interviews with local residents and participatory engagement with existing community organizations and groups. The research process will be transparently documented on a research wiki, incorporating interview notes, meeting minutes, an annotated bibliography, written analysis and visual infographics (for an example, see Jenny's current research wiki here: http://wiki.tidepools.co).
- This documentation is intended to support a model of open source technology design that is bottom-up in nature, rooted in the interests of those who would receive the greatest humanitarian benefit from the technology and participate intimately with the development process.
Illustrated instructables for adapting recycled/reused items for DIY hardware
- A major focus of the project is to experiment with recycled and donated hardware for the purposes of designing mesh solutions at minimal cost. Experimentation with various firmwares (eg; Commotion, Freifunk, Byzantium) and protocols (eg; OLSRd, batman-adv, Babel) using off-the-shelf and upcycled hardware (eg; donated routers and satellite dishes) will be extensively documented. Well-designed instructables/comics will incorporate use cases, user stories, and DIY building processes in an effort to engage everyday folks to experiment with mesh technology in their local neighborhoods.
SPRING SHIFT HIATUS
- 510pen - East Bay community wireless mesh network spawned in 2009 by Mark Burdett
- Tidepools - Jenny Ryan is designing local use cases for a community mobile mapping application built to run on mesh networks.
- Project Meshnet - Extensive wiki on the /r/darknet project, including extensive list of projects coordinating with them.
- Long Range Wifi - Info on the longest-range wifi connections ever made.