Connecting people in remote areas – with a Pi

Liz: I’ve been hoping someone would document a project like this for a while now: this is a use of the Raspberry Pi that we think could be of enormous help to people in remote areas all over the world. Benet Hitchcock from Starlifter Digital has been introducing proper connectivity to a festival in a remote part of rural Australia. There’s limited cellular reception in the area, but it can’t cope with the sudden arrival of thousands for the event – and people need to get information via their phones. Enter the Pi. Benet says:

Every year at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria, Australia, the Info Tent notice board morphs into a multi-coloured chaotic mush. Hundreds of pieces of paper consisting of site maps, timetable updates, camp site locations, random messages between friends and various tid bits are stuck to the walls of the tent. At music festivals closer to the city there is usually plenty of cellular phone reception but not at a festival like this.

Rainbow Serpent is held halfway between Lexton and Beaufort in rural Victoria, a couple hours out of Melbourne. And although there is limited mobile reception, the local network doesn’t seem to like the influx of fifteen thousand attendees. A localised solution was needed to help people connect and keep informed in a way that was searchable and easy to manage.

The solution I devised was a mash-up of a Raspberry Pi and a PirateBox.

I installed the PHP/MySQL based forum “Phorum” on a Raspberry Pi and the OpenWRT based PirateBox software onto a TP Link TL-3220 3G wireless router. I skinned the forum using a mobile phone template which I found via the Phorum community and I made a few functional tweaks.  The forums were used by festival goers for locating each others camp sites, ride sharing and lost property.

Updated set times, festival information and site map PDFs were hosted and served from the PirateBox wireless router. The PirateBox project was developed by David Darts in NYC to enable simple, anonymous and local file sharing.

The original idea was to just use the PirateBox router for the whole service but due to the issues with running PHP and MySQL on a wireless router I used the Raspberry Pi. If I get a chance to do this project again I would use the Pi to host and serve the files as well as the forums and also use a more powerful wireless router.

Graphics designed by Rainbow Serpent’s in-house designer were then applied using HTML, CSS and JavaScript and the “Rainbow Connection” was born (thanks Tim and Heidi). It was plug’n’play, simple to use and optimised for mobile.

All pictures courtesy Rainbow Serpent Festival