Increasing community resilience through sensor- and crowd-based infrastructure repair

Maintaining and repairing infrastructure in rural areas is a difficult problem. Nestled far from urban centers, rural communities experience more infrastructure failure and longer repair cycles as engineers must travel from city centers. These problems contribute to the “digital divide” between rural and urban areas seen both domestically and internationally: only 61% of rural Americans and 50% of all Indonesians have access to broadband Internet. This technological inequality exacerbates other inequalities as it effectively cuts off rural users from critical modern network functions such as mobile money, emergency response, education, and even basic communications like voice and SMS.
To address this fundamental problem, we propose to empower rural communities to build, own, maintain, and repair their own community infrastructure. We plan to accomplish this via a novel technical ecosystem, powered by a specialized cellular access point that enables ultra-low power IoT sensing of infrastructure failure and support for latent local repair talent. We propose an integrative research agenda, mixing both hard technical work (sensor development) and social factors (community co-development) . First, we will develop a modified LTE basestation (BTS) which supports ultra-low power backscatter communication from sensors, with an option to power the sensors (in some cases) via RF signals emitted by the BTS. Second, we will partner with communities to co-develop a set of easy-to use and practical sensors to monitor and repair critical local infrastructure including the BTS itself. Third, we will develop BTS services, such as web or SMS, to collect the sensor data and interpret it to provide tools and support to local repair actors. These services will give them information about failures (including predictions), tools for conducting repairs (similar to SMS-based repair manuals), and services for organizing locals to conduct repair (similar to crowdsourcing).
To realize this ambitious agenda, we have partnered with two organizations with deep roots in rural access and community building. The first is the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC). ASRC is a native corporation located in Barrow, Alaska and supporting Iñupiat communities throughout the north slope. They run and partner with a number of community-focused non-profits in the region to bring the benefits of infrastructure to rural Alaska. The second, Airwave Missions, is a connectivity-focused NGO in Papua, Indonesia. Airwave and has been working in the community of Bokondini for nearly a decade, sustainably bringing Internet to a local primary school. These partnerships will allow us to develop our solutions in concert with the communities themselves and ensure they meet the practical needs of rural people throughout the world.

Grant Info


Kurtis Heimerl


Jason Young

Start Date

Feb 1, 2018