Manmade and natural disasters often lead to infrastructure breakdowns that can affect water and electric services that can last for days or even months. The same is valid for internet services and media outlets, which we rely on when those emergencies happen. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, news and information are vital on how to address the situation in our communities, and many people rely on the internet for everything from the latest CDC (Center for Disease Control) news to providing children an online education.
Some governments also suppress information on the internet or shut it down entirely in times of strife, which often exacerbates the situation. Students from London's Royal College of Art and Imperial College have developed a platform that can mitigate internet outages/shutdowns, and transmit real-time news via satellite to Portal devices. Known as Fallback, the project uses powerful prediction algorithms to estimate when those outages will occur and engage the system immediately when internet service is down.
The team of Khulood Alawadi, Yi-fan Hsieh, Bahareh Saboktakin and Qifan Zhao designed the Portal device around a Raspberry Pi Zero W and an E Ink module, which decrypts data, formats into news articles, and provides a Wi-Fi access point people can use when the internet is down. Sending text-based data using satellite radio uses a frequency that doesn’t require a broadcasting license, so Fallback can’t be shut down unless the transmitter is destroyed.
While Fallback isn’t a catch-all solution for connecting to the internet, it’s an excellent tool for providing vital real-time information when ISPs are down.