Off-grid phone system to the rescue

Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen
Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen from the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics at Flinders at Tonsley.

An emergency mobile phone system developed at Flinders University has been acknowledged in international InnovationXchange awards for post-disaster relief work in the Pacific.

The Australian Government’s Pacific Humanitarian Challenge is running the awards competition to acknowledge and develop outstanding efforts to improve faster, cheaper and effective aid responses to Pacific nations.

Among 129 applications from 20 countries, the first-round winners included solutions to communications, logistics and finance in disaster situations, including the acclaimed free smartphone system built on the Serval Project at Flinders.

The award acknowledged Flinders research team leader, School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics senior lecturer Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen along with Dr Dione Garnder-Stephen, Jeremy Lakeman, Romana Challans and Andrew Bettison in collaboration with Professor Matthias Hollick and Professor Bernd Freisleben from the NICER Project (Germany), and Matthew Lloyd of the New Zealand Red Cross.

The Android mobile phone system provides cellular-like communications in the absence of cellular signal or internet.

For several years, the New Zealand Red Cross Emergency Telecommunications and Disaster Response Capability Unit has worked closely with the Flinders-led Serval Project team to ensure Serval Mesh is tailored towards rapid, secure and inexpensive post-disaster deployment in the Pacific.

The Flinders-led Serval Project team is developing Serval Mesh, a software suite enabling off-the-shelf Android phones to perform infrastructure-free, peer-to-peer voice, text and data services. To improve the range of the Mesh communications, the software has also been integrated with optional, pocket-sized inexpensive radio hardware units, or Mesh Extenders.

The Serval Mesh software is free to download and Mesh network inexpensive to build. The Mesh Extenders can be pre-deployed for emergency use and can offer and install Serval Mesh software onto any Android phone within range without any internet or cellular connectivity.

The first-round winners in the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge will participate in a “two-day design sprint” in Canberra this week to further develop their innovative products and ideas towards effective implementation.

The Flinders Serval Project and nine first-round winners will be invited to submit revised proposals to compete for a share of a $2 million development fund to be awarded at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24.

Should the Flinders Serval Project proposal be successful in the final stage of the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, the award funding would be used to further improve the mesh-routing protocols, message prioritisation and end-user interfaces of Serval Mesh to improve reliability and ease of use. A pilot trial would also be run in the Pacific in conjunction with the NZ Red Cross.

Details of other first-round Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade InnovationXchange winners are here.

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