Connecting people in remote areas – with a Pi

Liz: I’ve been hoping someone would document a project like this for a while now: this is a use of the Raspberry Pi that we think could be of enormous help to people in remote areas all over the world. Benet Hitchcock from Starlifter Digital has been introducing proper connectivity to a festival in a remote part of rural Australia. There’s limited cellular reception in the area, but it can’t cope with the sudden arrival of thousands for the event – and people need to get information via their phones. Enter the Pi. Benet says:

Every year at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria, Australia, the Info Tent notice board morphs into a multi-coloured chaotic mush. Hundreds of pieces of paper consisting of site maps, timetable updates, camp site locations, random messages between friends and various tid bits are stuck to the walls of the tent. At music festivals closer to the city there is usually plenty of cellular phone reception but not at a festival like this.

Rainbow Serpent is held halfway between Lexton and Beaufort in rural Victoria, a couple hours out of Melbourne. And although there is limited mobile reception, the local network doesn’t seem to like the influx of fifteen thousand attendees. A localised solution was needed to help people connect and keep informed in a way that was searchable and easy to manage.

The solution I devised was a mash-up of a Raspberry Pi and a PirateBox.

I installed the PHP/MySQL based forum “Phorum” on a Raspberry Pi and the OpenWRT based PirateBox software onto a TP Link TL-3220 3G wireless router. I skinned the forum using a mobile phone template which I found via the Phorum community and I made a few functional tweaks.  The forums were used by festival goers for locating each others camp sites, ride sharing and lost property.

Updated set times, festival information and site map PDFs were hosted and served from the PirateBox wireless router. The PirateBox project was developed by David Darts in NYC to enable simple, anonymous and local file sharing.

The original idea was to just use the PirateBox router for the whole service but due to the issues with running PHP and MySQL on a wireless router I used the Raspberry Pi. If I get a chance to do this project again I would use the Pi to host and serve the files as well as the forums and also use a more powerful wireless router.

Graphics designed by Rainbow Serpent’s in-house designer were then applied using HTML, CSS and JavaScript and the “Rainbow Connection” was born (thanks Tim and Heidi). It was plug’n’play, simple to use and optimised for mobile.

All pictures courtesy Rainbow Serpent Festival

10 comments

Travis avatar

Excellent idea! I’ve been thinking of making something similar for my workplace – no internet there but easy to host a bit of info for updating employees.

theoB610 avatar

Wow! I’ve been wanting to do something similar to this for a while, use the Pi in a situation where it really makes a difference. I think it could have a great effect in developing countries, being small and cheap, but I can’t think of any ways of using it.

Luca Mac avatar

Hey guys,

The pi is amazing! I’m 10 and going to save up. I have a windows XP PC but it broke this week (3 years old) I’m saving up for it and I know this Becuase I watch videos!

~ HerobrineMac

Robert_M avatar

What a great project. Nice work!

MrLetsPeter avatar

Great for shool I think :)

Richard Ash avatar

Next step is to add OpenBTS to add 2G call capability (into VoIP) as well!

yakko TDI avatar

Thank you for mentioning this awesome project. OpenBTS may need to be installed at my mom’s condo if the network doesn’t get better soon.

ZOG avatar

Hi,

Great idea! I didnt go to RSF this year but have an R-Pi see these two great concepts linking.
A mate of mine did go this year and wasn’t able to connect to it, and the RSF info tent didnt have any info on the system they could give him when he asked.
So I’m curious what kind of uptime and reliability you got, and although the PirateBox is all anonymous what kind of user count and access did you get?

Patrick Kelly avatar

Here’s a great way I have discovered and successfully tested…Education for All where there is no internet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujpLRcCKYOs

pk

Rob avatar

Was there a captive portal of some kind that redirected to the Phorum site? Neat project, thank you for sharing!

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