Dec 2, 2015 | By Kira

A startup from Osijek, Croatia, has developed an open-source, 3D printable Internet access point called MeshPoint that is rugged, plug’n’play, and built to withstand even the most extreme weather conditions while providing rapid and reliable Internet connectivity to those who need it most—namely, refugees and emergency services staff in Croatia and other crisis areas across the world.

Imagine being forced to flee your home, your family, and everything you know and hold dear in order to escape the horrors of war, poverty, oppression and persecution. You’d be hungry, exhausted, and most likely alone, with just one goal in mind: to survive long enough to reach safer shores where jobs and a better life just might await. Since September 16th, when Hungary closed its border with Serbia, tens of thousands of refugees have rushed into Croatia, finding themselves in that exact situation. On top of the refugees are hundreds of volunteers and emergency services workers, working tirelessly to provide food, aid, and information. That last bit is key—information is needed to figure out the best routes into Germany, to know which borders or opening or closing, to coordinate supply drop-offs, and above all, to get in touch with loved ones to find out where they are, what they need, and if they are still alive. This desperate situation prompted a group of volunteers from Osijet, Croatia, to launch a project called Otvorena mreža (Open Network), which created mobile WiFi hotspots that volunteers could carry around in their backpacks as they entered refugee zones.

The response to this open source inspired movement was overwhelmingly positive, however the developers soon realized that it was not going to be enough to make the change they wanted to see happen. “Setting up a WiFi hotspot in an adverse environment is not at all trivial,” they explained. “Sensitive networking equipment will often not work well with the petrol fired AC generators, as the choppy voltage will keep crashing it randomly, then there’s waterproofing stuff that doesn’t like to be wet, and then there are cables…”

After searching endlessly for an existing rugged networking solution and coming up short, Otvorena mreža realized it would be up to them to build one themselves. That’s how MeshPoint was born: an autonomous rugged hotspot for outdoors and crisis areas.

Developed extensively through 3D printing technology using an Ultimaker 2 model, MeshPoint was built to last under extreme weather conditions including wind, rain, and sandstorms, all while providing reliable internet access for up to 150 simultaneous users. In addition, the MeshPoint can work either as a ‘lone wolf’, an autonomous device that can be deployed in seconds; or in ‘Mesh Mode’, wherein a number of near-by MeshPoint devices can rapidly and automatically connect into a self-forming, self-healing mesh network to provide data connectivity over a wider area.

To top it all off, the MeshPoint was designed to be open-source and 100% maker friendly, so that not only can it be built by anyone, but it works out of the box without the need for a networking engineer: just turn it on, and it works. “Being Open Source enthusiasts, we set out designing a product that any reasonably skilled person could build in a reasonably equipped workshop. We decided to use widely available, OpenWRT-friendly routers, and set out to design parts that could be easily milled, printed, or otherwise made.”

While all of these features make the device ideal for providing instant internet hotspots at various outdoor or ‘pop-up’ events, such as festivals, construction sites, camping, or even public transport, the Open Net team wants it to be deployed where it is needed most: in the real crisis unfolding around the world. “We are still leading the effort to provide networking to refugees and aid workers in Eastern Croatia, and our prototypes are built and deployed in order to provide networking infrastructure during this ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

Currently, the first functioning prototypes have already been created, and the team is close to finishing a product that is fit for mass manufacturing. Within the next few weeks, they will be launching an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise funding to build a large number of 3D printed MeshPoint devices that will be donated to organizations that provide aid in refugee camps in Europe.

“By supporting this project, you will not only help us develop great technology that can save lives, you will also support our effort to extend our operations and provide the much needed internet connectivity to refugee camps throughout the Balkans, thus helping the refugees and the relief workers that are volunteering there.

The MeshPoint is a truly great example of how great minds can come together in times of crisis and tragedy and use open source design and 3D printing technology to improve the lives of those in need. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on how their project and crowdfunding campaign develop.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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