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Project OWL Enables Disaster-Relief Solutions Using Wireless Mesh Networks

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Backed by IBM and adopted by the Linux Foundation, Project OWL aims to make it possible to build mesh network nodes that are able to reconfigure themselves to avoid prolonged connectivity loss. The project targets scenarios such as natural disasters, where communication links become quickly unavailable or unreliable.

In 2017 a category-5 hurricane, Maria, hit Puerto Rico and wreaked havoc on the island’s infrastructure. Communication and power were disabled for an extended period of time causing lasting effects long after the hurricane passed. Many of these issues could have been prevented if civilians had access to a system where they could send short messages to emergency services and local governments.

Project OWL, short for "Organization, Whereabouts, and Logistics", is a combination of hardware and software that can be deployed in disaster areas to reestablish communication between affected civilians and first responders. The hardware component is a simple wireless device called a DuckLink, which is able to connect to other DuckLinks nearby to create a resilient mesh network.

A central portal connects to solar- and battery-powered water resistant ‘DuckLinks’ that are placed in the field to generate a Local Area Network (LAN) using a Wi-Fi captive portal powered by low frequency Long-range Radio (LoRa) connectivity.

DuckLinks use long-range radio technology to connect one another and to a local hub called 'MamaDuck'. MamaDuck hubs connect over long-range radio to PapaDucks, which are Internet gateways that take data from the remote hubs and send it to the OWL Data Management Software.

The OWL Data Management Software is a cloud-based analytics tool that enables the creation of dashboards and the discovery of patterns to better support the action of first responders trying to get in touch with civilians.

The Linux Foundation has recently open sourced Project OWL IoT firmware, thus allowing developers to use the ClusterDuck protocol with IoT hardware of their choice.

According to Project OWL co-founder Bryan Knouse, the project's end goal is to prepare communities to better deal with the impact of hurricanes, floods, or heart-quakes. In an interview with Container Journal, Knouse explained the project has been deployed by IBM on a large pilot in Puerto Rico:

Today there are 30 permanent, solar-powered devices deployed across Puerto Rico in areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, fire or other weather conditions

The library implementing the ClusterDuck Protocol is available on GitHub and can be used with the Arduino IDE out of the box. Interested developers can start with the How to build a Duck (PDF) user guide, as well as reach out on the project Slack channel.

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