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WellComm - A Communication Hub for Remote Areas

Communication in remote rural areas of developing countries can be difficult: although network coverage is available in many places, there is often no electricity to run or charge phones or computers. It is not only inconvenient for the people living in these areas, it is also problematic when people need to be informed by governmental administrative units about situations (e.g., in case of a disaster).

WellComm is a self-sustaining communication hub: it is a charging station for mobile phones, a communication channel to communicate with remote villagers, and it contains a set of sensors to sense the direct environment. WellComm consists of solar panels, batteries, a GSM module, Bluetooth, a charger plug for external mobile phones, colored LEDs to communicate states or messages, a display to output text messages, and a small range of environmental sensors (until now, we support temperature and humidity).

The box is independent of external power supply, due to solar panels and built-in batteries. All functionality and states can be configured and communicated via SMS messages. SMS messages can be send to change the working mode and sleep/wake intervals, and to display information to users. We intended to use this communication hub as a building brick in our Mobile4D disaster alerting system to enable administrative communication with remote villagers in e.g., a disaster case: the hub can receive messages and display them on the display. LEDs indicate the arrival of new information, and when people come to charge their phones at the hub, they can directly receive information sent by administrative units and distribute this information.

WellComm can be completely administrated via SMS: sleep/wake intervals, interpretation of new information, setting of system states, querying sensor information, usage data, etc. This helps to reduce the running costs of the hub, as it only needs to be able to receive and send SMS.

The system is based on the Arduino platform and carefully designed with respect to power consumption requirements. We have a solar panel and two separated circuits for running the hub itself and to provide power to external phones to be charged.

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