bat phone

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The Serval Batphone is what Paul Gardner-Stephen is talking about. The bat phone is part of the serval project. servalproject.org. The gensis for this project was the Haiti earthquake, which was approximately a year ago. He talked also about other areas where installing cellular infrastructure is economically unviable, and difficult.

So they want to try and develop a technology that doesn't rely on big infrastructure. Servals focus is on telephony capability, then data later. THey have a close affinity with villagetelco.org. Villagetelco have found that 80% of phone calls are over less than 4km.

They started out with 3 assumptions. The system should be able to work on the far side of the moon (ie, in complete isolation of existing infrastructure, not even satellites). The second assumption is that the users are not expected to need to know stuff, it has to work like an ordinary phone. The third assumption is that the telephone directory is fixed, and that you must be able to use existing phone numbers.

So their solution has to be wireless, as to be self organising ad-hoc mesh. Has to be self-claiming of telephone numbers, or even self issuing of phone numbers in a greenfields area. There needs to be authentication, so you know phone numbers get hijacked.

So for authentication they came up with voice signatures. Users record themselves saying their own names. When you call someone, if the call can't be authenticated you are prompted to listen to their voice tag, and continue if you recognize the voice. They do have some PKI in there though, with the hope that the local postoffice could participate in building a web of trust. Or the web of trust could be built up after a few phone calls (users are prompted after the call if they want to sign the key).

They got some seed funding from The Awesome Foundation. He spent 6 minutes to fill out the application, and had $1000 within 6 days. They had a successful tech demo in Arkaroola Sanctuary in the Australian Outback, and have proved the technology works. They have had lots of enquries from NGOs, comapnies, local communities, emergency services. They did a test to for making calls deep underground. They have got working their 3G PSTN gateway working.

He described with some maps scenarios of how it would work. His maps showed it becomes really simple to re-establish communications, and the people can do it themselves, they have the technology in their existing phones.

Paul did a demo, using G1, the original android phone, as they are easy to program. He also had a 'mesh potato', I think from the villagetelco project plugged into a telstra handset. THey have just bought the phone from ebay, it's got no special hardware, only software. The demo started out between a mesh phone and a GSM phone via another mesh+GSM phone. He tried a mesh to mesh phone call, but it failed, because both phones were configured with the same phone number.

Paul said that SIP is a very chatty protocol, and is not great for low bandwidth stuff. SO they have created Air-Clutch, their own protocol. They are doing a demo outside at lunch. THey have a technology road map, and are applying for grants and commercial funding. He says if he gets 20 good people he can change the world. He wants to make sure this technology helps all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, and can help bridge the digital divide.

Paul says the technology is not going to cost any money to put into all phones that do wifi.

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This page contains a single entry by Geoff Crompton published on January 27, 2011 11:29 AM.

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