Wind: Off-Grid Services for Everyday People

Integrating nearby and offline connectivity with the Internet

Hans-Christoph Steiner

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The internet has become essential services, and offline methods of sharing data are rapidly disappearing. Other possible networks are often better suited when connectivity is not available or affordable. Radios, sensors, and computing are available in the cheapest of smartphones and routers. Wind is integrating nearby/offline data exchange with the internet services that we all rely on.

We rely on the internet for so many things, from personal relationships to essential services. As the internet has gotten stronger, the asynchronous and offline methods of sharing data are rapidly disappearing. There has not been enough investment in the many other possible nets, even though they are often better suited for situations where connectivity is not available or affordable. The potential in radios, sensors and processing available in the cheapest of smartphones and routers are not fully utilized or realized.

Wind is a network designed for opportunistic communication and sharing of local knowledge. It is built on impermanence, movement, and spontaneity. Wind is a direct counterpoint to the metaphor of the Web, a system built upon the concept of fixed physical nodes, centralized authorities and permanent links. It is rooted in the mindsets and needs of people and communities who face challenges communicating. Wind is shaped by the movements and density of people in time and space.

The Wind project began with giving F-Droid the ability to "swap apps" using only Bluetooth and local Wi-Fi connections. We have enabled users with limited connectivity to gather and share media to via OpenArchive. Added "nearby" data exchange to share sensitive or blocked news via Proofmode and Courier. LibraryBoxen are integrated in as relay or source of data.

Guardian Project always works in partnership with the people and organizations whose needs we are aiming to address. Real world solutions do not exist in a bubble, so we always integrate with established free software projects, as well as develop design guidelines and document key concepts to spread all aspects of this research. This work was undertaken in partnership with Tibetans facing internet shutdowns, Cubans working with their own separate networks, Latin Americans facing expensive data plans, and people all over the world who experience outages and unreliable connectivity.

For Wind, our development approach is to incrementally improve upon existing efforts, while also focusing on developing the new integration glue necessary to provide a smooth, usable and practical to deploy experience. We are not inventing a new stack or protocol from scratch, or envisioning a utopian silo in which our systems solves all of the potential problems end-to-end. The issue that we see is that there are many potential components, protocols or software libraries that exist today, but that they have not been unified into a cohesive, usable experience that promotes easy deployment, bootstrapping and adoption.

This work just won fourth prize in the Mozilla "Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society" Off-the-Grid Internet Challenge, providing us funding to take the next step in the development.


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