It is now almost exactly two years since we made the first public demonstration of the Serval Project’s vision for keeping mobile phones working without cellular networks or infrastructure, and it seems right to recap where we have come in the past year.
A year ago, the software was still more or less the same as was demonstrated in the video linked above in mid-2010.
Support for the project consisted of initial seed funding from the Awesome Foundation, and a generous research fellowship from Flinders University, that freed up the majority of my time to focus on the project. The project then received a further significant boost with my being granted a Shuttleworth Foundation fellowship.
|Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen in South Africa, while meeting with the Shuttleworth Foundation.|
This combination of University and foundation support has proved to be amazingly effective. The University has provided facilities to accommodate the project, and access to a variety of expertise and relevant research interests, especially in the disaster research space, where Flinders University is particularly active and well respected internationally. The Shuttleworth Foundation has provided the financial means to free up all of my time to focus on the project, as well as employ developers and other resources to allow the project to drive forward much more quickly than would otherwise have been possible, and to enable me to keep some focus on the big picture, instead of having to do all the technical work myself. Both organisations have the public interest at heart, and have been particularly accommodating of the unusual nature of the project, and so the relationship has worked much better than I had even hoped. This is something of which I am continually grateful.
Further resources were added due to support by the Open Technology Initiative‘s Commotion Project, which is focussed around resilient communications systems to protect against human rights violations and what might be generally called “politically induced disasters” as compared to natural disasters.
Using these resources, the Serval Project has set about transforming the proof-of-concept demonstration software of 2010 into a production quality system. This has resulted in near complete replacement of every component.
Instead of using Asterisk and SIPdroid for voice calls we have implemented our own mesh-oriented voice protocol and programs, resulting in a much smaller, faster program.
The underlying mesh network that allows the phones to communicate directly with one another, and to relay calls and data for one another has been redesigned and reimplemented from the ground up, with high-grade security baked right in.
The Rhizome store-and-forward data service has been created, and then rewritten to take advantage of the new mesh implementation. MeshMS (Mesh-based SMS) has in turn be reimplemented to make use of Rhizome, and has been demonstrated delivering a message between Africa and Australia, using nothing more than three mobile telephones.
The user interface has been completely redesigned and reimplemented, to give a much more integrated user experience.
|Screen-shot from a nightly build of the next planned release of the Serval Mesh, featuring redesigned user interface.|
|The Serval Project was one of 11 finalists in the Ashoka Change Makers Citizen Media competition.|
|The Serval Project was one of the top-100 innovations named in the Netexplo list of 2012.|
Increasing Collaboration & Impact
|Members of a community in Nigeria familiarise themselves with the Serval Mesh software.|