Zombies Ate Your Neighbors? Tell Everyone Through LoRa!

As popular as the post-apocalyptic Zombie genre is, there is a quite unrealistic component to most of the stories. Well, apart from the whole “the undead roaming the Earth” thing. But where are the nerds, and where is all the apocalypse-proof, solar-powered tech? Or is it exactly this lack of tech in those stories that serves as incentive to build it in the first place? Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be the end of the world to seek for ways to cope with a collapse of our modern communication infrastructure either. Just think of natural disasters — an earthquake or hurricane causing a long-term power outage for example. The folks at [sudomesh] tackle exactly this concern with their fully open source, off-grid, solar-powered, LoRa mesh network, Disaster Radio.

The network itself is built from single nodes comprising of a battery-backed solar panel, a LoRa module, and either the ESP8266 or ESP32 for WiFi connectivity. The idea is to connect to the network with your mobile phone through WiFi, therefore eliminating any need for additional components to actually use the network, and have the nodes communicate with each other via LoRa. Admittedly, LoRa may not be your best choice for high data rates, but it is a good choice for long-range communication when cellular networks aren’t an option. And while you can built it all by yourself with everything available on [sudomesh]’s GitHub page, a TTGO ESP32 LoRa module will do as well.

If the idea itself sounds familiar, we did indeed cover similar projects like HELPER and Skrypt earlier this year, showing that LoRa really seems to be a popular go-to for off-grid communication. But well, whether we really care about modern communication and helping each other out when all hell breaks loose instead of just primevally defending our own lives is of course another question.

24 thoughts on “Zombies Ate Your Neighbors? Tell Everyone Through LoRa!

  1. “…fully open-source…LoRa module…ESP8266 or ESP32…”
    Hmm… something doesn’t quite add up, here…
    I like the concept, but it would be nice to base it on an easily-scratch-built radio in one of the amateur bands (because, presumably, there won’t be an FCC around to care, and those who are building this will be smart and considerate enough to monitor the airwaves for possible interference and police themselves accordingly).
    For the same reason, firmware should be developed for as many of the more popular microcontrollers and SoCs as possible (including 8- and 16-bit home computers and game consoles).

      1. IMHO, too many parts to source during an apocalypse (though this is a great beginner’s project for the “now”). My apocalyptic choice would be a “Mr. Microphone” fm transmitter (found at any remaining Walmart, probably), a long hunk of phone wire for an antenna, a car battery, and a solar panel to charge said car battery.

        1. You could send data via an FM transmitter. Some mobile phones have an FM receiver using the headphones wires as an antenna. Now you need to have the software to do the encoding/decoding of the data in sound already on your phone. I built an FM transmitter over USB and mic jack with verry few components. So many things are possible if you don’t have the frequency police interfering with your usage of the air.

    1. That’s a fairly minor modification for those who want it.

      But a fairly major barrier to joining for those who don’t care.

      This way many people can strengthen the network from all walks of life cheaply.

      (In response to why you won’t see projects developed like that).

    2. Although I am a ham,
      I have several ESP and NRF modules
      (as well as Arduino and Pi units)
      I could solar power.
      I think that would provide a communication channel/mesh that could benefit more people locally.

    3. That’s a good point… you’d think a post-apocalyptic world would have fewer radio users, and even fewer willing to go around enforcing spectrum rules.

      LoRa is a pre-apocalyptic format, designed to work in a crowded band. So far I’m only getting a km line of sight with some TTGO ESP32 LoRa modules, but I haven’t yet tried proper cases, better antennae, ground planes etc.l

      Anyway it is a neat idea. If it catches on, and there is a network of these things, people could test and log them as they travel. Sort of like geocaching.

      1. A better antenna can certainly help. What LoRa parameters (SF, BW) are you using?

        Another thing that can help a lot is to use a 1W LoRa module. They’re not hard to find, but you probably need an amateur radio license to use them.

    4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AX.25

      Been there, done that (in the 1990s) I remember that 1200 baud transmission were heard from out of band station and even on CB bands.

      Solar powered digital repeaters are easy to do, even with repurposed parts: https://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Powered-APRS-Digipeater-for-Amateur-Radio/
      I built a digipeater using a former taxicab radio, an FT490R, a couple of Z80-based TNC2, an huge lead acid battery and a solar charger controller. 90s technology.

  2. If you are in a post-apocalyptic situation, don’t advertise your location because someone will try to loot your food, fuel and equipment etc. It will be much worse than looting after a natural disaster as there will not be any law and order.

    (In some other part of the world, you’ll see people helping out each other instead of looting.)

    1. This is a good rule of thumb if you are in a game or a TV show. But since we haven’t seen any actual apocalypses there is no true data around this.

      The data around looting after natural disasters is clear though, it almost doesn’t happen. People almost always show their best side when they are hit by natural disasters, and cooperate to help eachother survive.

  3. So basically they are reinventing APRS for ISM bands? I’ve had this on my mind lately. It would be beneficial if APRS was moved or cross-banded with 433 or 915 since the availability of cheap radio modules is drastically better than VHF. And if there were a version for non-HAMs.

  4. Honestly something like this is pretty needed today. I’ve seen a lot of complaints that parts would be hard to source when zombies take over the chip fabs and all but…
    What about events in the desert when you’re trying to find your friends but have no cell service. What about longer range systems for popular camping zones with no cell service. What about people living under authoritarian regimes that can cut cell service to quell organizing protests?
    All of those have pretty low bandwidth needs, even with large numbers of users if a proper message-queuing setup is used. They also all already have cell phones for the most part, so a project like the above really could be useful in this day and age

  5. Not a wifi question: I want to put a sensor at a location where there is a LoRa server from https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/ about 700 meters away. Is there some inexpensive LoRa client hardware that can last a month or more on a small battery charge? The sensor would be always on (detect if a door opens) but the LoRa client could sleep until the sensor is triggered.

  6. The problem with all these projects (and as the article points out, there are plenty of them) is that they all reinvent the wheel rather than interoperating.

    IMHO, it’s all useless if your local hacker population is fragmented among a bunch of similar-but-incompatible networks, which destroys the node density needed to make such a network truly useful.

  7. Serious question – I’ve been buying up parts from Aliexpress to make an Arduino to ham radio CW coder – type a message into the Arduino, and then it takes care of encoding it in morse and sending it out over the HAM via CW. Another unit receives and displays the message. Encryption can received receipt can be added to this as well.
    Why have I not seen this type of project done on here? Is it the FCC and HAM alliance keeping its death grip on the spectrum?

    1. You are kind of describing what you can do with APRS today. If you are operating with enough power or are using restricted frequencies that require a HAM license, you can not legally encrypt the transmission, and you must include your call sign with the transmission. I’ve messed around with APRS, but it is unsettling to me that anyone can google my call sign and see exactly where I live, and bring up a web page and see exactly where I am. I’d like to see an APRS like system where there is an option to select “Encrypt my communication (use only when no longer restricted by the FCC)”. Then you could add trusted parties and set up trusted groups.

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