Inveneo: Solar and Pedal-Powered Phones for Uganda
Wired carries a very interesting story about a high-tech startup, Inveneo, that created a Voice Over IP system (VOIP is basically sending two-way voice signals with computers, mimicking the traditional phone system) that is adapted to the particular context of rural Uganda (and thus, large parts of Africa) and can make a big difference to these people who otherwise have to walk 3-4 kilometers every time they need to communicate. Inveneo has already installed phone systems in four isolated villages in the western part of Uganda, in the Bukuuku subcounty.Each village in the Bukuuku program has a custom-built computer with a 2-GB microdrive, to eliminate moving parts, along with 256 MB of RAM and a 533-MHz processor. The computer is wired to a regular analog telephone set and a directional Wi-Fi antenna, which transmits the internet signal to a central hub at one of the villages.
Complete with 70-watt solar panels and a bicycle generator -- which can provide power in the event of no sunlight -- each installation costs only $1,800, including the outdoor Wi-Fi 802.11b antenna. [...]
Calls between the villages are routed by the hub, and cost nothing -- like dialing another room from a hotel PBX, said Robert Marsh, Inveneo's CFO and co-founder. Calls destined for outside the village network go over a satellite link between the hub and the main Ugandan telephone exchange.
According to Inveneo's website, Mark Summer (CEO) and Steve Okay (co-founder) are now in Louisiana to set up wireless relay stations between shelters. These are good people. We wish them the very best, and hope that their technology will soon become ubiquitous in the poor parts of the world that could use it.
Thanks to Shayne McQuade for telling us about this story!