Connecting Remote Communities

In late January, I stumbled on a CBC article about a group of Fall River high school students who had developed an innovative piece of tech that would help them access the internet in regions where wi-fi signals were too weak. While the method provided an inexpensive solution to the sketchy classroom wi-fi signals they were experiencing in their high school, it became clear to them that their solution had the potential to support a broader set of communities around the world.

Working together, the team of three students – Cooper Gagnon, Lochlan Graham, and Zach Rooney – have formed the start-up OffNet with a mission to connect the whole world to the internet.

After reading their story, I immediately contacted the team to learn more about their project, and the more I heard from them, the more I was impressed. Over the last several months we’ve been chatting about how we might be able to use their tech to improve the connectivity in remote Canadian communities that lack cellular signals (such as in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut), and around the world where data costs limit connectivity (for example, in Malawi).

Working with Dr. Jason Ernst (Left.io), and expanding on the CIRA funded research plan to build a mobile mesh network in the community of Rigolet, I’m excited that Lochlan, Cooper, and Zach will be spending part of their summer working to update OffNet to work with Left’s mesh technology. Ultimately, this could mean bringing a form of text messaging to a community that lacks cellular reception, connecting them in new and exciting ways. More than this, it provides an opportunity to improve and expand the community-led eNuk health and environment apps which we’ve been developing over the last year.

While there is a lot of work and unforeseen challenges ahead, I’m looking forward to this partnership with Zach, Cooper, and Lochlan.

Of course, this is not the only thing the OffNet team is up to. This fall, Cooper will begin his undergraduate studies in Computer Science at Dalhousie, Lochlan will be attending UIT for Computer Science, and Zach will be heading to Memorial University to begin a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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