Final Project - Description¶
A post-collapse information and communication network built from the most basic building blocks possible.
For my final project I’m going to build an autonomous communication mesh network using the most minimal hardware components as I can possibly achieve. I want them to be low-power devices that have the capability to generate their own energy.
There are many community networks in the world such as Guifi.net in Catalonia and SNET (Street Network) in Cuba. Their beauty is that they can and do operate without corporate or State ISPs. The open architecture of networking protocols such as TCP/IP make it possible to operate a network completely independent from any outside party.
But for hardware it’s different. The physical part of communication networks relies on the global supply chain. Which means that if supply is disrupted - for whatever reason - building and maintaining networks becomes harder.
Throughout the course I’d like to examine (by doing) how to build networked communication devices using the least possible physical means. This ties in with the aim of the FabLab community to minimize the input building blocks into FabLabs. (This was discussed in the global lecture of week 01).
Based on the description above a simple radio network comes to mind. They’re low-energy and component-light. But simple send & receive radio’s lack a few of the requirements I have set for the network:
- The network must enable it’s users to store, retrieve, manipulate and share data.
- It must allow for synchronous and a-synchronous communication.
- It must allow for many-to-many communication.
- It must be able to run or interoperate with the TCP/IP protocol suite.
I use the short-hand ‘post-collapse’ to refer to the situation in which a minimal building block, low energy network will be of use. This term is not to be understood as a term that refers to a singular event or possible future in which the global economy has collapsed. As William Gibson has pointed out in the quote at the top of the page, many ‘futuristic’ realities currently exist in parallel.
There currently are localities on earth where hardware availablity isn’t as plentiful as where I live. There are political contexts that call for sovereign networks. For me personally, seeing the rapid rise of surveillance capitalism makes me interested in technology sovereignity in order to conceive of and create alternative technological realities.
Oddly, the post-collapse reality has caught up with most of the world since I conceived of this project. The Covid-19 virus has hugely disrupted the global supply chain. The electronics industry is hit hard especially. Much of the stock for electronics production is produced in one locallity: China. When Covid-19 forced productivity and shipping to a hold there, the electronics industry was confronted with this single point of failure.
Another relevant observation is the enormous reliance on the internet during this pandemic. Currently, the Netherlands, much of Europe and many many countries in the world have grinded to a hold. Regimes of social distancing and lock downs have resulted in closed schools, stores, pubs, sports clubs and places of work. People are advised against or even prohibited from meeting each other. Instantly, much of social, educational and work-related interactions moved to online environments. Although the streets are empty we can still interact with each other. Through video conferencing, text messages, VOIP and email, we keep in contact. The internet has become a life line, the primary channel for human interaction. All this to say that communication technologies are essential during a break down of the status quo. And that this project’s goal to make communication devices from the most minimal of building blocks, so that they can be manufactured under many circumstances seems all the more relevant to me now.
I’ll also look into scavenging. In a post-collapse situation there will be a lot of technology laying around. From cheap IoT toys to broken devices. What are the system’s requirements to accommodate for repurposing disgarded components? What level of modularity can be achieved?
Besides building this sovereign, low input, energy independent network I have the additional goal of writing a short sci-fi story. It will feature a community that needs to build a comms network but has very little means. Interwoven into the story will be information about building networks. The narative will serve as a manual on how to build networks.