Inveneo Launches New Rural Connectivity Project in Liberia with USAID

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on July 24, 2018 in the categories: Economic Development, Healthcare, News, Projects, Relief, Software

Inveneo, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that works to increase Internet connectivity in the developing world, is pleased to announce its newest project in partnership with USAID. Inveneo has been contracted by USAID to expand affordable, sustainable, and reliable rural Internet connections throughout Liberia, which was tragically hit with an Ebola outbreak starting in 2014. Known as Recover.IT, the new project will connect or improve 37 different sites in Liberia, many of which are in remote, rural areas. In addition, Inveneo is pleased to partner with Orange Liberia, a subsidiary of the Orange Group.

Not only will these Internet connections help facilitate the work of healthcare workers, clinics, and development organizations already working at the local level, but they will also improve the information and communication technology (ICT) capacity of Liberians and local entrepreneurs. It is estimated that connecting 37 sites with affordable, sustainable, and reliable high-speed Internet access will directly assist almost 3,000 public officials and humanitarian workers.

FJ Cava, Recover.IT’s Project Manager, explains further, saying “it’s been proven that each incremental 10% penetration of Internet into a country increases the GDP of that country by 1%. The hope is that this capacity building allows agencies like the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education to be able to better respond to possible national crises in the future.”

Recover.IT is a spinoff of the original ERCI (Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative) project that Inveneo implemented in 2015. During the Ebola epidemic emergency Inveneo partnered with Facebook, NetHope, Cisco, and others to deliver 100 Internet connections in Sierra Leone and Liberia in under five months.

The Inveneo team has gained many valuable insights from over 10 years of experience that it will apply to this new project. For example, Internet providers do not always have an accurate view of the market demand for high speed Internet, and that has prevented them from risking the capital that is necessary to be able to support the expansion of high-speed Internet. Recover.IT will be working on the ground with local contacts to overcome this challenge, as well as others, in the months ahead.

Inveneo’s Mission and Worldwide Impact

Inveneo is a 501c3 nonprofit social enterprise. Its mission is to deliver the tools of information and communications technologies (ICTs)  — sustainable computing and better access to the Internet — to those who need it most, people and organizations in rural and highly underserved communities of the developing world. Inveneo has over 10 years experience transforming lives in 31 countries through better education, healthcare, economic opportunities and faster emergency relief, impacting over 3,250,000 people in more than 1,900 communities.

Putting the World’s Impoverished Communities Online: Five Questions for Bob Marsh

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on June 18, 2018 in the categories: Publications

This post was originally published on Engineering for Change’s website and written by E4C’s Contributor Rob Goodier. View the original post here.

Bob Marsh installs WiFi antennas on the roof of a microfinance institution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bob Marsh is a household name and the subject of dinner party conversations in a certain kind of household and select dinner parties. The kind populated that are popular among computer scientists and engineers. In the 1970s, Marsh was an early member of the Homebrew Computer Club, where members traded tech and tips, and Apple co-founder Stephen Wozniak went to people’s homes to help them build their own Apple I. Together with Lee Felsenstein, also a member of the club, Marsh  designed and built the popular Sol-20 personal computer and began sales in 1976.

Now Marsh’s work reflects the club’s theme, “Give to help others.” He is the co-founder and executive director of Inveneo, traveling to underserved communities around the world to install computer and Internet connectivity hardware. He recently helped to put 100 youth centers in Palestine online, and trained technicians to operate a Network Operations Center in Accra, Ghana, as part of the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) project that serves Ebola medical centers and NGOs in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. In all, he has worked in 15 African countries, Bangladesh, Haiti and Nepal.

We asked Bob Marsh five questions.

E4C: You once said that a key difference between rural Africa and rural America is Google. Have you seen an example of the Google advantage at work after you’ve provided Internet access?

BM: Unfortunately, Inveneo staff rarely get a chance to return to project sites after completion. This is because we are usually sub-contractors for larger NGOs that are responsible for the M&E phases. Anecdotally, I personally have seen people in rural Kenya, Burkina Faso and Botswana using Google at project sites. However, I don’t remember what they were searching for.

My point was that it’s quite difficult to get information from outside one’s own rural community without Internet access, but that we here in the rich countries now take for granted (and hardly think twice about it) access to a vast array of information on any subject.

E4C: Would you tell us a little about the hardware that you’re installing in developing countries?

BM: Originally, back in 2005, we were building our own low power consumption 12VDC battery-powered computers using VIA motherboards. These had rather low CPU horsepower, but enough to run a Linux desktop and server. We found a number of 12VDC LCD monitors to pair with the VIA PCs.

The next year we found a thin-client PC made by Wyse that was very small and inexpensive and we created our own Linux distro to run in just 128MB of memory.

By late 2007, low power computing had become somewhat mainstream, and we found an AMD-powered unit made in Taiwan that would run either Linux or Windows XP or 7. This unit was considerably more powerful than the Wyse and could include a 16GB 2.5” hard drive or 4GB SSD storage.

By 2009, Taiwan’s Asus began making very low power complete systems that included Windows 7 for reasonable prices (as low as $255). Inveneo used various models of the Asus eeeBox series for several years after that, plus some very low power LED/LCD monitors from Asus.

However, for the past two years, we’ve been more involved with tablet-based projects, primarily using the Google Nexus 7 series, also made by Asus.

E4C: What are some of the obstacles in hardware installations that you face now?

BM: Printers remain a challenge. While laser printers have the lowest cost per page, they use a lot of power. Inkjet printers can use very little power, but often use a lot of expensive ink cartridges.

The main challenges in rural IT installations are:

  1. Either complete lack of electricity, or poor quality electricity from the national grid.
  2. High heat and humidity, or even worse in many cases, lots of dust.
  3. Lack of knowledgeable technical support people outside of the capital city.
  4. Lack of broadband Internet access at an affordable price.

E4C: What are some of the improvements that you’d like to see in the technology that you work with in developing countries?

BM: Needed are:

  1. Cheaper and simpler solar power systems, longer life battery energy storage
  2. Cheaper broadband mobile infrastructure (I believe Facebook is working on this, as are others)

Frankly, a lot of the challenges are more software related, e.g. more comprehensive materials that follow a country’s curricula, software to track pupils progress and attendance, as well as teacher performance.

E4C: Do you have a story from your work that gives a glimpse of a day in your life on the road?

BM: Local knowledge is always valuable, but we learned early on to remain skeptical. In Western Uganda, we did a project to connect houses in 5 villages to an Community Center office near the highway (a very dusty dirt road) that had an Internet connection. Each house would have a low power computer, solar panel and battery, with a long range wifi radio to access Internet and a local VoIP service.

We only had a hand drawn map showing the various neighboring villages, as they were not shown on any other paper or online maps. One targeted village was 1000ft up on the slopes of the Ruwenzori Mountains nearby, but there were a number of similar looking villages that could be seen with the naked eye or binoculars. So we asked three different local people to point out which village was the correct one, and received three different answers. Ultimately we sent people up to the village, who had to walk up steep path, as there was no road. Even with binoculars from the They used a mirror to flash their location to some of us at the bottom of the hill, and we found that the correct mountain-side village was none of the three that the locals had pointed out! Worse, that target village could not be seen from the Community Center, and as the radio links needed direct Line-of-Sight, we had to completely re-configure the whole network to find a way to reach the mountain-side village.

This post was originally published on Engineering for Change’s website and written by E4C’s Contributor Rob Goodier. View the original post here.

Inveneo Wins Prestigious Award from ASME and Engineering for Change

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on October 20, 2017 in the categories: Events, News

On October 18, 2017 Inveneo had the honor of receiving the “Connecting the Unconnected” award from Engineering for Change and ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers) at the recent Impact.Engineered event held in New York City. The IEEE – SA Global Affairs Program Director Moira Patterson presented Inveneo with the award, describing the incredible impact Inveneo has brought to many rural and previously unconnected communities around the world.

Co-Founder and Executive Director Robert Marsh received the award for Inveneo.

Co-Founder and current Executive Director Robert Marsh represented Inveneo and received the award for the team. As he was on stage he announced that, “when [I was] told about the event, I said I might not be there because I’ll be in Liberia connected the unconnected” which brought great laughter from the audience.

Inveneo proudly shares this category with two other winners who were World Possible and Google. The evening’s events also included the following awards and winners:

The award from ASME and Engineering for Change.

Hardware Trailblazer
D-REV
The ASME/Engineering for Change’s ISHOW Global Winner

Women Leading in Technology and Impact
Elaine Weidman, Ericsson
Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Foundation
Linda Raftree, Independent Consultant; Convener, Tech Salon NYC and MERL Tech

Corporate Philanthropy Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals
Siemens Stiftung

Impact.Engineered Honorary Engineer
John Hockenberry, WNYC Radio

The Inveneo team would like to congratulate all the winners at the event and say a special thank you to the ASME and Engineering for Change teams for the award. It was an exceptional evening and several past Inveneo employees were also present, including Wayan Vota and Mariela Machado, who continue to make incredible contributions in the ICT world!

Thank You Solar Library Champions!

  1. Posted by Inveneo on February 16, 2016 in the categories: Projects

We’re extremely grateful for all of our Generosity campaign supporters!  As of February 16, 2016, nearly 60 people had donated approximately $14,200 to our campaign.  We’re excited to begin assembling the Solar Libraries this month to send to Haiti.

In particular, we’d like to give a big shout out to our three Solar Library Champion supporters!

  • Ann Cude
  • Alexandra Grill-Childers
  • Sharon Penley

Thank you to our Solar Library Champions and to all of our donors for your help and support!

Picture for Siemens Project Campaign

Inveneo’s Solar Powered Digital Library Generosity (by Indiegogo) Campaign!

  1. Posted by Inveneo on November 23, 2015 in the categories: News

Inveneo is proud to announce the launch of its Generosity (by Indiegogo) campaign, which aims to raise $50,000 to deliver Solar Powered Digital Libraries to 15 remote, rural schools in Haiti. We are grateful to craigslist’s Craig Newmark for his generous contribution of $10,000!  

The Problem

Throughout the developing world, millions of schoolchildren lack (or only have limited access to) books and basic learning resources, much less computers or the Internet. Transporting volumes of books or computers to schools can be expensive and logistically daunting. Digital libraries – tablets or computers (PCs) loaded with thousands of e-books and other educational resources – have begun to enhance learning opportunities in the developing world. However, many existing digital library solutions require Internet or power.

The Solution

Inveneo’s Solar Powered Digital Library (Solar Library) is ruggedly designed for schools lacking educational resources, Internet, and power. It includes thousands of e-books, lectures, and other educational resources (e.g. Wikipedia) that can be accessed completely off-the grid.

Call to Action

Inveneo is no longer fundraising for this project. Thank you very much to everyone who donated to Inveneo to support the Solar Powered Digital Library in the past!

What's in a Solar Library

Who Won Inveneo’s Micro-Data Center Design Challenge?

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on September 23, 2015 in the categories: Events

Inveneo, in partnership with ARM, LeMaker, and Protocase, is pleased to announce that a winner has been selected for its recent $10,000 Micro-Data Center Design Challenge. Congratulations to William Weatherholtz and his team “Micro Weather” who are the winners of the $10,000 challenge! Mr. Weatherholtz, who lives in Utah in the United States, describes his team’s design in the following statement:

half-of-team-post-hike-300x225-3“This design challenge [was] essentially an enclosure and heat problem. The concerns with racking, powering, and layout of the data center components are relatively trivial to determining how to prevent heat issues.

Our design plans to tackle these difficult challenges…by mounting the solar panels on top to converting the highest source of incident radiation/heat into useful power. We anticipate the overall design being quite shallow, to maximize solar power generation, minimize cost, and minimize failure due to the enclosure tipping over. There is some give and take here however, as a taller fixture will allow higher thermal convection, since the air moves faster.”

(Pictured, L-R: Garrett Johnson, Victoria Johnson, Kelly Weatherholtz; not pictured Joshua Wickern, Bradley Weatherholtz, Landon Weatherholtz)

Coming in second place is “RuggedPOD”, a team from France who was lead by Jean-Marie Verdun. Each member of RuggedPOD will receive a Google Nexus 7 tablet as a prize for his or her hard work and design.

For this design challenge, Inveneo gathered together judges from its own staff, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ARM, LeMaker, and several members from Protocase. There were 50 teams who were accepted to the challenge from all over the world, including China, Italy, Rwanda, India, The United States, Turkey, Kenya, England, Poland, and Haiti. The judges and Inveneo’s partners were amazed with so many terrific designs, which were entered into the contest.

LeMaker, Protocase, ARM, and Inveneo would like to congratulate all the contestants and teams for all their outstanding engineered designs!

Inveneo would also like to thank its partners ARM, Protocase, and LeMaker for all the collaboration and great ideas that made this contest an incredible success. We hope that these winning designs (and other outstanding contributions) will become great innovations in the world of micro-data centers.

Join Our Engineering Team and Volunteer with Inveneo!

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on September 14, 2015 in the categories: Events, News

Are you interested in digital content for both hardware and software? Do you live in San Francisco or the Bay Area? Inveneo could be looking for YOU!

5499255205_16f6c2980a_bInveneo is investigating new and innovative technologies to deliver digital content to rural schools in developing regions which are off-the-power grid and have no Internet connection. Two technologies we would like hands-on help with include Outernet and Rachel Pi.

The work would entail:

  • setting up the hardware and software of these systems
  • testing their approach, benefits, and limitations
  • investigating (from a software approach) how to integrate these systems together to work in a rural school

We ask the volunteer to work a minimum of five (5) hours per week, primarily in the San Francisco office. The individual would work directly under the Engineering Department, and additional comprehensive work may be requested for ICT support. This position could continue after the initial research is completed.

Please send your resume and a brief cover letter to Jana Melpolder if you would like to apply. Applicants will be accepted on a rolling basis.

How to Design a Data Center for the Developing World

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on September 11, 2015 in the categories: News

Note: Inveneo, in partnership with ARM Limited, LeMaker, and Protocase, is pleased to announce that a winner has been selected for its recent $10,000 Micro-Data Center Design Challenge. Congratulations to William Weatherholtz and his team “Micro Weather” who are the winners of the $10,000 challenge! Coming in second place is “RuggedPOD”, a team from France who was lead by Jean-Marie Verdun. Each member of RuggedPOD will receive a Google Nexus 7 tablet as a prize for his or her hard work and design.

They have different interests. One teaches dance. Another is a helicopter pilot-in-training. One is a software engineer. Another is a carpenter. Still another, a studio artist. But they came together with a shared purpose: to try to improve conditions in Third World countries.

half+of+team+post+hikeMeet William Weatherholtz and team, who just won the Inveneo solar-powered Micro-Data Center Design Challenge for their Micro Weather station design. The team’s winning entry is an object lesson in how creative methodology, a diverse team and carefully considered components selection just might help transform developing societies.

“I have a soft spot for Third World countries and I’m really interested in finding ways to improve conditions there,” Weatherholtz said in an interview. “I felt like this was a project that played to my strengths and my desire to educate.”

The design criteria for weather stations is unique: How do you deal with rain, rust, long-term durability, a lack of power sources, and little critters that like to gnaw on things in the wild? Weatherholtz (pictured to the far right of the nearby photo) and his team (pictured, L-R: Garrett Johnson, Victoria Johnson, Kelly Weatherholtz; not pictured Joshua Wickern, Bradley Weatherholtz, Landon Weatherholtz) embraced a unique methodology that included using Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats philosophy. The approach is designed to help improve team perspective and collaboration during projects.  This was a particular interest because the seven team members were dispersed across the country.

“Everyone was assigned a different perspective,” said Weatherholtz, a mechatronics engineer. “So for example, someone was assigned an aspect of the design that only considered price; someone else would focus on aesthetics, and so forth.”

The team rotated through these different considerations and perspectives and then amalgamated different parts of the design into the one they liked.

The team started by identifying the customer needs and translating those into engineering characteristics:

  • What type of battery was required?
  • How much back-up power would be needed? (the team targeted five days for it to run on back-up power initially but ended up at 2.5-3 days—more on that shortly).
  • What other design considerations might be unique for a developing country?
  • What were the environmental needs of the device casing?

Here’s a look at how the team tackled some of the design considerations.

Battery

Inveneo+winning+design+v3+uprightThis was an extremely critical component that needed to be as reliable as possible. Additionally, the team had to understand how much power they could pack into a small space. Should they push the limits for longer back-up power capability and accept the consequences? Additionally, what type of batteries could be shipped internationally?

“We tried to pick a battery with a very high energy density and moderate size, but the battery is still pretty heavy and large,” Weatherholtz said. “Adding another battery would mean another cubic foot of space and an extra 60 pounds in the design.”

At the end of the day, two and a half days backup capability seemed good enough for most applications, he said. That meant the battery could recharge in four hours with sufficient power, and most places get at least five hours of good sunlight, he added. The team ended up selecting an absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery—essentially a golf cart battery—that doesn’t spill, tip or have vulnerable components inside.

Solar Technology

This was one of those developing-country considerations, where ready reliable power sources are hard to find, if not non-existent. Even though it was the team’s first time working with solar, adopting the technology was key. “It’s a fantastic solution in a remote data center application because a data center is a static structure,” Weatherholtz said. “It allowed us to take advantage of that big fusion generator in the sky.”

Casing

The team considered plastic but wanted the system to be able to take a pounding. So they settled on aluminum, a reliable material, which conveniently could serve as a sizable heat sink. They designed to a worst-case scenario of 50C ambient temperature with direct sunlight, no humidity, and no moving air.

“One of our main design criterion was to make the enclosure—and enclosed electronics—reliable.  For us, that meant it needed to be completely sealed with no moving parts,” Weatherholtz said.

Single Board Computer

The contest criteria specified the SBC. As a designer and engineer, Weatherholtz said he doesn’t really like being shoehorned into a solution, but, that said, “the Banana Pi boards were hard to beat,” he acknowledged. The Banana Pi, based on ARM Cortex-A7 with Mali-400 GPU and running open source software, is designed to be inexpensive, small and flexible.

The technology was “robust, open source and low power,” he said. “When you’re dealing with IoT applications and micro data centers, you don’t have a lot of power and you can’t have a lot of heat, so ARM is best.”

One challenge is that boards such as this typically have two sources of heat — RAM and processor.   The team undertook considerable thermodynamic analysis and determined that getting rid of heat was key. The Banana Pi boards were ideal, Weatherholtz said, because the two sources of heat were on the bottom face and as a result, the team was able to direct the heat in the optimal direction. Had the CPU/RAM been on top, then it would have been more challenging to get the heat out, he added.

Overview+Thermal+Analysis+4+sizedWhat was his biggest lesson?

Weatherholtz and team spent a total of 150 engineering hours on the project, for which competitors used ARM-based solutions to create the “micro-board chassis” designs. They will share the $10,000 prize and the design will be built and deployed in the developing world.

“I really can’t overstate the importance of thermal analysis in projects like these,” Weatherholtz said. “If heat doesn’t have a good way to escape, it’s going to build up and cause high temperatures that make your electronics fail, or at least fail prematurely.”

He added:

“For us, making a low thermal-resistance path out of the case was a main design consideration.  We identified where the heat was being generated (see image right), and then got it out.  Everything centered on that.  Where we placed components, what we placed them on, how we connected them to what they were placed on… everything.”

Written by Brian Fuller, an employee of ARM. This post was originally posted on ARM Community and was republished with permission from the author.

Inveneo in Haiti: Digital Literacy for 71 Teachers

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on August 18, 2015 in the categories: Publications

Inveneo is proud to announce that, due to its projects and Project Manager in Haiti Michelet Guerrier, there are now 71 more teachers who are digitally literate in Haiti. This newly published report is about an ICT Pilot Program [Extension of the Transforming Teaching Through Tablets (TTT) project] to improve Haitian teacher capacity and access to digital educational resources. Inveneo implemented this pilot program in three primary schools in three different regions in Haiti from March to June 2014 (Petit-Goave, Hyacinthe, and Cascade Pichon) before we expanded the program to reach more than 30 secondary teachers in Petit-Goave. The program’s main goal was to demonstrate the benefits of using tablets in a school environment to build teacher capacity and make educational resources available for teachers.

We re-designed the project to fit not only primary school teachers, but also those working in secondary schools. Read the report and check out all the updates!

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 4.14.20 PM (2)

Inveneo Welcomes New Intern from Columbia University

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on August 4, 2015 in the categories: News

The Inveneo team has been privileged this summer to welcome onto its staff Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti, a graduate student currently enrolled in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice department at Columbia University. Mariela came to Inveneo highly recommended from the program’s manager, Ms. Debi Spindelman.

Mariela (4)Mariela is a telecommunications engineer with 5 years of work experience in the ICT sector and describes herself as “passionate about applying ICT for development issues of education, health, agriculture improvements and poverty reduction”. This passion started back in 2006 when she worked for an ICT for development project for the Peruvian NGO EHAS, where she designed and implemented an Internet and IP phone for a local health center. In addition, she speaks five languages and previously earned a Master’s Degree in Information and Communications Technologies in Spain.

Throughout her Inveneo internship, Mariela will be spending most of her time working alongside the engineering department, developing a new M&E approach for new existing Inveneo projects and studying drones for Inveneo’s upcoming Drones 4 Good project. Inveneo has also asked her to research current Internet connectivity in Cuba, including national policies and laws related to ICT and freedom of speech. Additionally, she will be testing the new promise of ICT4D for rural areas called Lantern from Outernet. This device claims to provide Internet connectivity from the satellite for educational purposes, providing offline libraries to rural settings that lack ICT infrastructure. The results will be published on ICTworks.

In her spare time this summer, Mariela is also conducting research for the Earth Institute  together with Jeffrey Sachs that will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly this fall. She is looking into how ICT could be an enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) related to health, education, energy and financial inclusion. She is focusing on the health sector and how ICT innovations could help improve health outcomes in the world. Be sure to look for a snapshot of her research and findings on ICTworks, coming early this fall.

Welcome to the team, Mariela! We’re so glad to have you on board!