Omer Arad, IBM Research Staff Member, Wearables & IoT
By Bryan Knouse, CEO and Co-Founder, Project Owl
Nine months ago, worlds collided between five guys — Nick Feuer, Charlie Evans, Magus Pereira, Taraqur Rahman, and I — with the same mission: Develop technology that can help reduce the impact of natural disasters and personally make a difference in communities around the world.
What quickly began as a lofty idea — effectively create a communications infrastructure where connectivity is non-existent — turned into a reality four months later when my team, Project Owl (Organization, Whereabouts, and Logistics), was selected in October 2018 as the grand prize winner of the inaugural Global Call for Code 2018 Challenge created by David Clark Cause and Founding Partner IBM. And on top of receiving this honor, we have since become the first project within IBM’s recently launched deployment initiative, Code and Response, to put open source technologies to use for social good to help tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.
To say the entire experience has been amazing and life-changing is an understatement, especially as a result of the expertise and support we have received from IBM and the relationships we have been fortunate to make along the way.
Whether you have been following us since the beginning or joining us now, we are excited to have you on our journey and are eager to share with you the latest and most significant update we’ve made since October to support communities with technology to help them prepare for and mitigate damage from natural disasters.
Since the inception of the Call for Code Global Challenge, our team was inspired by the events that unfolded after Hurricane Maria. Naturally, when determining where we should launch our first official experiment to deploy Project Owl’s incident management and networking technology, we thought it would be fitting to visit the regions where infrastructure and connectivity were decimated by the hurricane. So, we did just that.
During the first half of March 2019, we conducted our inaugural field test across five regions in Puerto Rico: San Juan, Loiza, Dorado, Isabela, and Comerio. These regions represented the diverse and challenging geography present on the island, from neighborhoods to coastlines, jungles, valleys, and cities. In each location, we deployed a mesh network of our "Ducklink" devices to generate a local area network. Once online, we began communicating on the network and sending messages to the Owl, our cloud-based incident management software system. And yes, it worked.
Anyone who builds technology is aware that once you are "in the weeds" of the tech, you will see a thousand different ways it can — and will — catastrophically fail. Double this for new, inventive technologies. The fact that our solution deployed, the network was functional, and the cloud software worked as intended is a testament to the hard work of incredible individuals present at Project Owl and IBM. In total, we deployed over 63 "Ducks" covering over two total square miles, and collected over 6,000 data transmissions on the network.
To create such a successful first test, we had quite the village — or as those of us within Project Owl say, a "nest" — to aid us in the deployment. Representatives from IBM Corporate Service Corps, IBM Code and Response, and Information Technology Disaster Resource Center in addition to the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Mayors of Isabela as well as Comerio, the former Chief Information Officer at the Government of Puerto Rico, the Chief Innovation and Information Officer at the Government of Puerto Rico, and a variety of local first responders and community groups each provided insight and counsel imperative to the development and application of our two-part hardware and software solution.
While the technology was the biggest concern, the most valuable outcome of this deployment was the relationships built with all of these key and influential representatives and organizations. Local communities were even more supportive than we anticipated, offering their facilities, restaurants, and even houses to help during the deployment. It’s one thing to build something in a lab and say, "It works." It’s another to have complete strangers watch the technology deployment and say, "It works — we need this as soon as possible." And we are working at maximum capacity to make that happen.
The night we won the Call for Code 2018 Global Challenge, we set a goal post in the ground that we would pilot this technology in communities around Puerto Rico. In March 2019, with the help of IBM and many others, we delivered on our commitment. We are now applying the knowledge we acquired to iterate on our technology and become one step closer to supporting communities when natural disasters strike. With hurricane season approaching soon, it is not a question of if communities will need our help in the near future, but when.
To participate in the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge, join here.
If you are interested in contributing to Project Owl, please visit us at https://developer.ibm.com/code-and-response/deployments/project-owl.
This post is sponsor content from IBM and was created by IBM and Insider Studios.
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