Project SneakerNet: Giving Rural Haitians Access to Information

Haitians living in isolated, rural villages have a problem: they have little access to information from outside their village. Usually, a handful of people in the village will have a non-smart cell phone, but it doesn’t give the village a window to the world at large.

Huntsville STEAM Works has been working with Creative Exchanges Initiative to come up with a proof-of-concept hardware kit to address this problem.

The proposed solution is code-named “SneakerNet”. That name harkens back to the early days of computing, before networking, when transferring data from one computer to another involved walking between computers, carrying a floppy disk.

The concept for Haiti is to produce content in the form of video and audio files, put the content on USB memory sticks, and carry the memory sticks to the villages.

Once the village receives the latest edition, it will be played on a battery-powered video projector. This approach works well, since literacy is not universal in Haiti.

Creative Exchanges Initiative is working on sources of content. We anticipate that it will include news, instructive videos and podcasts, sports and entertainment.

The kits also contain a still/video camera. We want to encourage local journalism. We also want to record feedback from the community regarding the content. Finally, the camera provides an opportunity for voices from the villages to be heard across Haiti.

Digital media from the cameras will be exchanged along with memory sticks. Videos and stills from the cameras will be processed at a central location, and can be incorporated into succeeding editions of the memory stick. The goal is to have the news and information come full circle, going out to the villages, news and commentary coming back from the villages, and that information going back out to the villages.

Since many of the villages lack a reliable source of electricity, the kits will include a pedal-powered generator to recharge the projector and camera. This generator can also recharge cell phones and car batteries. In addition, we are looking into the possibility of using solar power for battery charging.

All of this equipment comes packed up in a rugged, foam-padded, water resistant case.

Many thanks to Catherine Parrill, CEO of Creative Exchanges Initiative for visiting us and allowing us to demonstrate SneakerNet to some of our awesome visitors from Haiti, who provided many comments and welcome suggestions.

After the demo, the children in the afternoon summer camps at Huntsville STEAM Works got an impromptu Haitian drum concert by Wilele, one of our visitors. I think those kids will remember that for a long time!