IBM code challenge winner uses open source and IoT for disaster relief

The Linux Foundation is hosting the open source firmware for Project OWL, which helps developers foster connectivity between first responders and civilians during or after natural disasters.

The Linux Foundation announced Tuesday that it was hosting the open source IoT device firmware for Project OWL (organization, whereabouts and logistics), the winner of IBM’s “Call for Code” global challenge. The foundation is inviting  developers worldwide to build mesh network nodes for global emergency communications networks for the challenge. 

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Organizers said Project OWL helps to quickly establish connectivity and improve communication between first responders and civilians in need-helping facilitate organization, whereabouts, and logistics during or after natural disasters. Project OWL’s IoT devices, “DuckLinks,” can be deployed or activated in a disaster.

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Deploying “DuckLinks”

The open source release of OWL’s firmware can quickly turn a cheap wireless device into a DuckLink, a mesh network node capable of connecting to any other Ducks physically around it. Organizers said this release marks a significant milestone putting the ClusterDuck Protocol into the hands of global developers. This is a starting point to even larger efforts in communities around the world to provide communications where infrastructure is degraded or nonexistent.
 
Disaster relief solutions often mean life or death within impacted communities,” explained Michael Dolan, vice president of strategic programs at the Linux Foundation, in a press release. “The ability to build solutions from open source technologies that communities, integrators and disaster relief organizations can all contribute to helps the world more efficiently apply technical resources without having to recreate a technology stack every time.”
 
“That’s the power of open source—we can mobilize a community of developers to solve real problems, and have the output shared and improvements shared back,” Dolan said. 
 
“What Project OWL started with the Clusterduck Protocol creates a fabric for communication in areas that will have a direct need to set up on-the-ground communications quickly. Having an open solution that anyone participating in the disaster relief can adopt and improve is critical to building long term solutions for disaster relief.”
 
With Project OWL, a central portal connects to the solar- and battery-powered water resistant DuckLinks in the field to generate a local area network (LAN) using a Wi-Fi captive portal powered by low frequency long-range radio (LoRa) connectivity. 

The DuckLinks provide 

  • an emergency network to all mobile devices in the perimeter

  • instruct people how to connect to an emergency response portal

  • first responders with analytics and data sources to build a dashboard and formulate an action plan, Including 

  • coordinating resources

  • learning about weather patterns, and 

  • communicating with civilians who would otherwise be cut off.  

Bryan Knouse, co-founder of Project OWL, said in a press release: “Becoming part of The Linux Foundation community is a huge boost in accelerating our goal to better prepare communities and mitigate impact when hurricanes, floods or earthquakes strike. We want to challenge developers to build mesh network nodes for global emergency communications networks leveraging our newly open-sourced IoT firmware.” 

Proven worthy

Project OWL was named the global winner in the 2018  inaugural Call for Code Global Challenge and since the win, Project OWL has been fortified, tested, and deployed through IBM Code and Response, a $25 million, four-year deployment initiative to put open source technologies in the communities where they are needed most. 

“We were impressed with [Project OWL’s] combination of a complete software and hardware open source solution, utilizing an AI-powered disaster coordination platform paired with a robust communication network to reach people when connections are down,” said Daniel Krook, IBM chief technology officer for Call for Code and Code and Response in a press release.”IBM is committed to using the power of our network and technical know-how to alleviate suffering from climate change and natural disasters.”

Project Owl on the road

Project OWL and IBM took on a large-scale pilot trip to Puerto Rico, deploying over 63 ducks each covering two square miles in March 2019, and was followed by two pilots in the west and southeast of the island, engaging with local students, businesses, government representatives, and first responders. OWL currently has 30 permanent, solar-powered devices deployed across Puerto Rico in areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, fire or other weather conditions. 

Humanitarian impact

Call for Code was created for developers in 2018 alongside the founding partner IBM, and featured more than 100,000 participants from 156 countries. The challenge encourages the development of practical applications built on open-source software, with a goal to use tech in innovative ways which make an immediate and lasting humanitarian impact in communities globally. The five-year, $30 million global initiative challenges developers to use their skills and mastery of the latest technologies, and to create new ones, as well as to drive positive and long-lasting change across the world with their code. Call for Code global winning solutions, among others, are further developed and deployed via the IBM Code and Response initiative.

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