Hackaday Prize Entry: Disaster Recovery WiFi

The Meshpoint project originated in Croatia during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when [Valent Turkovic] and other volunteers noticed that first responders, including NGOs like Greenpeace and the Red Cross, often struggled to set up communications in the field. They came to the conclusion that they couldn’t rely on the normal communications infrastructure because it was either damaged or overloaded.

The solution is a net of open source, autonomous WiFi mesh routers, scalable from a single team to serving thousands of people. Responders who won’t have time for a difficult login process, should find setup as easy as signing in to a social media site.

The physical nodes would consist of a router robust for up to 150 connections, all run by an ESP8266 and protected by a weatherproof enclosure. They would feature 6-8 hour battery lives with recharging via solar/wind, AC from wall current or generators, or simply DC car batteries.

You can learn more about the project or download their code from GitHub.

37 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Disaster Recovery WiFi

  1. Just want to say, this is epic. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been wondering why it doesn’t exist, for the last 5-10 years. Something that quickly,easily, and autonomously brings up wireless access (even at slow speeds) for everyone in an event such as an earthquake is a excellent idea.

    1. It does exist and has for more than ten years, I posted links here for you but they got eaten by the spam filter. Do a google search on a custom time range and you will see what I mean, lots of old projects that are related to mesh WiFi and even specifically for emergencies.

      1. See the John Titor legend from the 90’s for its description of free, autonomous long-throw wifi routers in future communities. Unfortunately, the corporate lobby will work to legally block something like this just as a branch of corporate media currently fights services like Netflix and Spotify. Their media and government associates will have the public terrified of it. The public would refuse the use of their own feet out of fear from scary-scary corporate media stories.

    2. Yeah, this has definitely existed in many many incarnations in the past. Sometimes, like this it’s about disaster support. Sometimes it’s about bypassing censorship in totalitarian countries and sometimes it’s just about trying to make an open mesh network that exists outside of corporate and/or government control.

      The real problem has been that none of them really seem to take off very far beyond their original group and once those people burn out the projects die.

      1. We got up to 450 active CLIENTS per MeshPoint (150 clients per radio, MeshPoint has three radios) in real world tests. This is even better than our estimates that were 300 clients. We did real world test during Pannonian Challange that had few thousand spectators. You can check out facebook page for sceeenshots and we can share our Grafana data for anyone interested in these numbers. We are just finishing a case study and blog post that will have all this info.

        If you have any additional questions please feel free to ask away.

        Valent,
        MeshPoint project lead.

    1. The ESP8266 are part of an IoT sensor network for latrines/water/trash. They connect to these routers to provide data back so they can be cleaned/emptied/refilled.

    2. “router robust for up to 150 connections, all run by an ESP8266”

      You are correct, this is not true.

      @hackaday please correct this text. We use three CPE210 radios, each can handle 150 users. We use ESP8266 but on other part of the project, not for crisis communication but for collecting sensor information (tracking air quality, forest fires, temperature, humidity, etc…)

      Valent,
      MeshPoint project lead.

  2. FWIW In each unit they could have connected the three routers not in a row but in a ring – ethernet spanning tree would take care of the loop, and there’d be redundancy if the middle router would fail.

  3. I don’t understand why this gets a hackaday article again. The screenshots in the article are totally out of date, there is no sign of any battery solution in the wiki and also not a single mention of an esp on the website or in the git, so where exactly are these things talked about in the article?

    1. I can’t tell if this a real, working electronic product, or just a 3d printed box, some 3d renders, some code and a list of all the things they would like it to do if they actually make it.

      1. MeshPoint is a fully working device, not a render. It is easy to check our claims, with simple google and facebook search.

        http://facebook.com/meshpointwifi
        http://meshpoint.me/

        I know that some people are sceptic, but it is easy to confirm that we aren’t faking it. We are working on this idea for over 8 years, and hardware has been tested in the field and optimised for last 2 years. Nodewatcher open source software that powers our “cloud” is over 8 years old (project started in 2009).

        We have deployed over 30 MeshPoint routers so far, some were temporary (for events) and there are 13 (or maybe 14, need to check) still deployed in the field right now.

        During 2015/2016 Syrian refugee crisis in Europe (with first prototypes) we helped humanitarian organisations like Red Cross, Unicef, Greenpeace, International Organisation for Migration and lots and lots of small NGOs to be connected to the Internet while they were on the move and working in the field. They called us because all tech they had has failed them and didn’t work. Only thing that worked.

        We also provided internet for 500,000 refugees that were in need.

        Latest deployment of MeshPoint was at Pannonian Challenge 18, which is an extreme sport competition, and we had over 18,000 people connected in three days on 4 MeshPoint hotspots.

        Please check out MeshPoint facebook page where you can see when and for how long we have been testing and deploying MeshPoint hardware and software.

        Cheers,
        Valent, MeshPoint project lead.

    2. Yes, it is a bit confusing because Hackaday used image from our year old prototypes, if you check out http://www.meshpoint.me or hackaday page for MeshPoint project you will see our latest prototype.

      Battery solution is currently being tested IRL and we will write a detailed article about it, just please follow our project updates. We are swamped with work but all info is coming in due time.

      MPPT solar charger is produced and ready for testing but firmware is not compiling cleanly and we need to update some documentation for it also. When are 95% there, but want some polish before we release it all which will be in next few weeks.

  4. Um, could someone explain the antenna array they’re using? Are they only using one of three routers at a time, or do they actually place two active antennas 2cm away from each other?

    1. This design has been replaced by three sector antennas. As you correctly concluded this previous design was not ideal, but which design ever is? Not sure why Hackaday editors included old renders that we abandoned, but you can see how latest design looks like at http://www.meshpoint.me

      Also you can read our rapid prototyping blog post here with more details:
      https://hackaday.io/project/10453-meshpoint-wifi-router-for-humanitarian-crisis/log/61428-eureka-and-rapid-prototyping

  5. If you read the project, they have built and deployed various solutions based on this. I’d say kudos to them.

    See Hackad.io project pages ‘Future Plans’ for ESP usage. This includes active waste monitoring. Sure the info is a bit all over the place but they seem to be actively delivering a project others can use.. they often mention the design is for off the shelf components so anyone can build this.

    1. Why do so many people seem to thing that ham is an acronym? Really, there is no reason to capitalize it. The letters H.A.M. do not stand for anything! Well, I suppose it might but if it does it isn’t ham radio!

      Anyway, yes, hams have volunteer to provide emergency communications. Usually this occurs manually, via nets where people are the traffic handling nodes. There are various digital modes too though, in the late 70s hams started one of the first wide area digital packet networks, AMPRNet. In more recent times there have been various iterations of that idea using WiFi equipment. The latest of these to my knowledge is Broadband-Hamnet which I believe is currently in operation although they are a couple years behind on updating their website.

      The ham WiFi networks do not interoperate with the license free (Part 15 in the US) ones. Hams get to legally use higher power and higher gain antennas (resulting in higher effective radiated power). Ok, actually non-hams do this too, we see it all the time on this site but hams do it legally while non-hams often are breaking laws they aren’t even aware of. Hams also get to use other frequencies that non-hams do not have legal access to. These frequencies are adjacent to the public WiFi band so off the shelf equipment can often be made to transmit there with a simple firmware change.

    2. Yes there are lots of professional and amateur organisations that help during crisis events, and they all do an awesome job. Main problem is that when some crisis event happens that there is usually not enough trained people to establish crisis communication in affected areas. It takes quite long for people with training and expertise to come to affected areas especially when roads and other infrastructure are damaged.

      Now imagine drones delivering MeshPoint to affected areas in first hours of crisis events and establishing crisis communication network, not days or weeks later as it is done today.

      This is where MeshPoint comes in because it’s main feature is to be simple but also smart enough to be effective when used by any volunteer in the field, even if she/he has no training in crisis communication.

      This is in silicon valley parlance our biggest disruption. With MeshPoint anyone can be a hero and establish crisis communication!

      As far as we know nobody has done this so far. With this powerful but simple hardware and software that is open source and with our approach we would like to change how crisis communication is handled in the future. Because when there is a crisis you don’t have days or weeks, you need to act immediately in order to save lives.

      Valent Turkovic,
      MeshPoint project lead.

  6. I’m missing something here. All of the meshpoint.me website seems to indicate is they are larger 4g mifi routers, can’t see anything about clever software or uplinks? So any “mesh” functionality is more a redundancy if one 4g connection goes down?

    In which case, 450 people on a 4g connection, sounds painful, and would be swamped by all the phones also trying to connect up to the same cell towers? Or is there some other uplink not mentioned?

    As most current communication software isn’t true p2p, rather needing comes to its server (So it then can send it’s advertising crap through) you have the same issue… if there was a true p2p whatsapp (for example), I could see this totally being epic for a large group of humanity not connected reliably to the www, where talking to other peeps in the same mesh could be locally routed, then linking the LAN (MAN?) to the wider www would be a secondary role.

    Also, a good content filter + priority service might be required, I’m sure that only one of the 4 phone screens visible on the website looks like it’s been used for “communicating with loved ones”

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