Mozilla and the NSF Hand Out $400,000 in Prize Money for First Phase of Wireless Innovation Challenge

Keychains that can network themselves for disaster response and wireless broadband relays connecting underserved neighborhoods win top honors

A Schematic of Project Lantern.  Phone showing data in flooded area with man rowing  canoe on the street.
Image: Paper & Equator

Last year, Mozilla and the National Science Foundation offered $2 million in prize money for two types of technology: one designed to connect the currently unserved (or underserved) populations to the Internet, and one that can reconnect people should a disaster take out their Internet access.

The quest, it seemed, was for a real-world version of Pied Piper, the fictitious startup featured on HBO’s Silicon Valley. That company’s decentralized Internet technology jumped to smart refrigerators when its main servers went down.

“We’ve picked two of the most challenging situations in which people are disconnected from the Internet,” Mozilla program manager Mehan Jayasuriya told me at the awards program’s launch.

This month, the Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society challenge announced winners for the design phase, awarding them a total of $400,000 in prize money. The next challenge for these 20 teams will be to develop working prototypes by June; the best of those will each receive between $50,000 and $400,000, and will be asked to demonstrate their technologies publicly in August.

The top three technologies aimed at connections during disaster recovery were:

Project Lantern, a keychain-size wireless router that incorporates three radio technologies and includes emergency applications that can run offline. Multiple devices can work together to create a city-wide network, updating maps and other emergency response information. Project Lantern claimed first place and $60,000.

• Hermes, an autonomous network infrastructure for local calling and messaging that fits inside two suitcases. Hermes took second place and $40,000.

• Emergency LTE, an open-source, solar and battery powered cellular base station and local web server that weighs under 50 pounds. Emergency LTE took third place and $30,000.

The top three technologies aimed at bringing affordable Internet to the underserved or unserved were:

• The Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), a system that uses relays to beam wireless broadband from a local ISP to underserved neighborhoods. EII took first place and $60,000.

• NoogaNet, a plan to connect neighborhoods using utility pole–mounted Wi-Fi nodes, point-to-multipoint millimeter wave communications, and mesh technologies. NoogaNet took second place and $40,000

• Southern Connected Communities Network, a plan to connect rural Appalachia and the South to the Internet using broadband towers, each of which would deliver gigabit Internet to anyone in a 25-mile radius. This proposal took third place and $30,000.

You can check out the rest of the first phase winners, who received $10,000 each, here.

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