A Science Fair with $1.6 Million in Prizes

As the final part of Mozilla and the National Science Foundation’s Wireless Innovation Challenges, 14 community technologists will live demo their creative projects in Mountain View, CA this August


Across the U.S., community technologists are using creative ideas — like solar-powered Wi-Fi and mesh networks — to connect the unconnected. This August, Mozilla is gathering those projects under one roof for a science fair — and awarding $1.6 million in prizes to the most promising ideas.

The event is the final leg of the Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society (WINS) Challenges, a $2 million competition run by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Mozilla. Launched in 2017, the initiative awards prizes to the people and projects who are connecting unconnected Americans with scalable, secure, and resilient solutions.

Mozilla and the NSF created the competition to address the U.S. digital divide. Some 34 million Americans — many of them located in rural communities and on Tribal lands — lack high-quality internet access.

The August 14 event, held at Mozilla’s Mountain View, CA headquarters, will run three hours and feature live demos plus Q&As with the 14 finalists. Finalists include a solar-powered LTE network, network infrastructure that fits inside a single backpack, connectivity for homeless shelters, and others. They hail from Cleveland, OH, Oakland, CA, Beatrice, NE, and beyond. (See the full list of finalists below.)

WINS judges — leading technologists and academics in the realm of wireless internet — will be present. The live demos will influence which projects are ultimately selected as winners in fall 2018. Two first-place winners will receive $400,000 each; two second-place winners will receive $250,000 each; two third-place winners will receive $100,000 each; and two fourth-place winners will receive $50,000 each.

“Every day, the internet becomes more vital to everyday life — it’s how we find jobs, learn, manage our finances, and communicate with family,” says Mark Surman, Mozilla’s executive director. “This means the 34 million Americans without reliable internet access are at a severe economic, educational, and social disadvantage. And it’s something we need to fix.”

“By investing in affordable, scalable solutions like these, we can unlock opportunity for millions of Americans,” adds Jim Kurose, head of the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at NSF.

The August 14 event will feature seven finalists from each WINS category: “Off the Grid Internet Challenge,” for projects that connect Americans in the wake of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters, and “Smart Community Networks Challenge,” for projects that bring affordable, speedy internet access to underserved communities. The physical event is not open to the public, but we will be streaming the demos online.

In February 2018, Mozilla and the NSF announced the first batch of winners — $10,000 to $60,000 in grants for 20 promising design concepts. (See those winners here.)


WINS Off the Grid Internet Challenge finalists

[1] Baculus | Baculus is a rolling backpack stuffed with off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software that helps community leaders know where to move to maximize Wi-Fi and cellular coverage. It can run independent of any other infrastructure for up to 72 hours. It is meant to be used year-round as a public Wi-Fi access point that also works when power, cell towers, and ISPs fail. Project Lead: Jonathan Dahan in New York; Design Lead: Ariel Cotton; learn more.

[2] Wind: Off­-Grid Services for Everyday People | Wind uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Direct, and physical infrastructure nodes built from common routers to create a peer-to-peer network. The project also features decentralized software and a content distribution system. By the Guardian Project in New York; learn more.

[3] Project Lantern | A Lantern is a keychain-sized device that hosts decentralized web apps with local maps, supply locations, and more. These apps are pushed to Lanterns via long-range radio and Wi-Fi, and then saved offline to browsers for continued use. Lanterns can be distributed by emergency responders and are accessed by citizens through a special-purpose Wi-Fi network supported by the Lanterns. Project by Paper & Equator in New York, NY in collaboration with the Shared Reality Lab at McGill University; learn more.

[4] HERMES | HERMES (High­-frequency Emergency and Rural Multimedia Exchange System) is autonomous network infrastructure. It enables local calling, SMS, and basic OTT messaging, all via equipment that can fit inside two suitcases, using GSM and High-Frequency radio technologies. Project by Rhizomatica; learn more.

[5] Sonnet | Sonnet couples simple hardware (a Wi-Fi module and LoRa transceiver) with custom software (the Sonnet Mesh Protocol, a mesh networking protocol). The result is low-power consumption and long-range connectivity that can easily integrate with other devices. Project by Sonnet Labs; learn more.

[6] DisasterRadio | Disaster Radio is an off-grid, solar-powered, long-range mesh network built on free, open-source software and affordable, open hardware. It can be rapidly implemented in disaster areas by anyone with the capacity to follow instructions. Project by Sudo Mesh in Oakland, CA; learn more.

[7] SELN | SELN (Standalone Emergency LTE Network-in-a-Box) is an open-source, solar- and battery-powered cellular base station that functions like an autonomous LTE network. The under-50-pound unit features a local web server with apps that allow emergency broadcasts, maps, messaging, and more. Project lead: Dr. Spencer Sevilla in Seattle, WA.


WINS Smart Community Networks Challenge finalists

[1] Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) | EII uses a system of relays to beam wireless broadband from a local ISP to vulnerable neighborhoods. The system includes an intranet with apps, plus training so local users can build and maintain the network. By the Detroit Community Technology Project, sponsored by Allied Media Projects in Detroit, MI; learn more.

[2] Connect the Unconnected | Using a fixed wireless backbone network, this project provides public housing and homeless shelter residents in a two-­square-mile radius with connectivity at speeds up to 35 Mb/s using point-to-point and point-to-multipoint millimeter wave technology. Residents also receive digital literacy training on refurbished devices that they are permitted to keep upon graduation. Project by DigitalC in Cleveland, OH; learn more.

[3] ESU 5 Homework Hotspot. This project uses TV white space to create a wireless bridge between local schools and locations throughout nearby communities, allowing students to connect to “homework hotspots.” Project by Educational Service Unit 5 in Beatrice, NE; learn more.

[4] NoogaNet | NoogaNet provides wireless access within a defined neighborhood by leveraging utility pole-­mounted Wi-Fi nodes, point­-to-­multipoint millimeter wave, and mesh technologies. The project also includes user training for installing, utilizing, and managing a wireless mesh node. Project by the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, TN; learn more.

[5] Southern Connected Communities Network | This project entails a broadband tower — and eventually, series of towers — that can deliver 1-Gbps speeds wirelessly to anyone in a 25-mile radius via public spectrums. The towers will be controlled by community members in rural Appalachia and the South who are currently underserved by major ISPs. Project by the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN.

[6] NYC Mesh Community Network | This project uses high-­bandwidth sector antennas, internet exchange points, mesh protocols, and solar batteries to create a community-owned, decentralized network. Project by NYC Mesh in New York City, NY; learn more.

[7] Solar Mesh | This project integrates mesh Wi-Fi access points into solar-powered light poles in order to provide connectivity to low-income households. The bandwidth is provided by T­-Mobile. Project by the San Antonio Housing Authority in TX.