Thursday, May 7, 2015

Text Messages during Catastrophes without network, WiFi

Back in 2006, there was a fatal shooting in Montreal that made the news. It happened at Dawson College, which was one minute away on foot from another called Marianopolis College.

Since the two colleges were very close, and separated by a small forest, the police closed down the entrances of both, and of course, it was panic everywhere. Incidentally, parents and friends were hearing the news all over the city and beyond, and the cellular networks serving our area were literally swarmed by thousands of calls and messages. That was the very first time we experienced a communication cut-off in a crisis because of the network's overuse.

My example is not the best one in terms of catastrophes, but when you think of forever feared names like Sandy, Katrina, Ike and Arthur (sorry for people named those...), and of the hundreds of thousands of people desperately trying to get in touch with someone, anyone, and they couldn't because either the networks were way overused, or cellular towers were literally flying in the winds, then you know what situations I am referring to.

We're, as you know, extremely dependent on our smartphones today, so much so that if they stop working we find ourselves utterly lost and vulnerable. What are we supposed to do when we're let down by cellular towers!? Well, Daniela and Jorge Perdomo, a sister-brother team built a start-up in Brooklyn, N.Y. resolute on finding an answer to just that question. Together they launched a remote-control-sized device called the goTenna (see picture). What does it do?

Simply put, it uses long-range radio signals to send and receive encrypted text messages without passing through cellular networks!

There's no power around, no cellular network and no WiFi. Whether you find yourself in the midst of a natural (or otherwise) catastrophe, or on the less gloomy side, you simply went on a hike with some friends or to a concert, and you have no reception to be able to communicate with someone else, as long as two people have the goTenna with them, they can keep in touch using radio signals! Ingenious isn't it? The device is battery-powered; it can last 30 hours of use, or 18 months in standby. At an altitude of 10 meters, it has a range of about 2 kilometers, and at 150 meters, around 40 kilometers. It connects to both iOS- and Android- operated devices through Bluetooth, and is small enough to fit in a purse, a backpack or a suitcase.

Although it's currently being reviewed by the U.S. telecom regulator (the FCC), it's already possible to pre-order it on the goTenna website (with the all-too-likeable motto: "No Service? - No Problem!") for $149 US per pair!

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