The Device Chronicle interviews Andrew McCaughan, CTO, BuffaloGrid on bridging the digital divide with IoT for reliable connectivity, access and mobile power and digital services to billions.
Daniel Becerra is the CEO and Co-Founder of BuffaloGrid, a company bringing mobile power and digital services to the next billion users across frontier markets. With Andrew as CTO, BuffaloGrid is striving to solve the problem of bridging the digital divide by enabling more reliable connectivity to the Internet and content that aids individual and community development. Andrew explains the problem: an estimated 4Bn of the World’s population have never experienced the Internet but 3.4Bn or thereabouts have access to 3G or 4G. He continues “There is a lack of affordability and infrastructure in terms of main power and fiber optics, and digital skills to support readily available, affordable connectivity.” Andrew and his colleagues at BuffaloGrid want to break down the barriers for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid to help them adopt and engage with the Internet and all the potential health and socio-economic benefits it can provide.
Andrew explains just how challenging it is for many people to live: “These are people living off grid. Charging their mobile phones is a regular challenge as power brownouts can last for days, and they depend on the credit on their phone for their finances in many cases.” Diesel power generators are the main source of off-grid power in this context.
Introducing the StreamSpot to address the digital divide
BuffaloGrid offers a smarter digital and cleaner alternative called the StreamSpot. This is a lightweight device that can be connected to a solar panel and it has a battery to charge up to 10 devices at a time and content as a service is offered covering educational, health, sports and entertainment content. The content is local and highly relevant. There is an onboard SOM on the device to support content streaming. The devices are deployed in remote villages in developing regions, and the charging is free as part of service. Andrew explains “We give free access to power and then we bring local content, skills and training and there is zero cost of data to the user. The hub comes preloaded with a 1000 hours of local content, and new content and services will be continually added.”
Roll out plans for 2022 to start addressing the digital divide
The projection is to put 25 devices into Bangladesh and the services will be rolling out in March in the peripheries of Dhaka, with further rollouts in Nigeria and in refugee camps in Uganda later in 2022.
OTA software updates & delta updating for 3G & 4G
BufflaloGrid designed the device in-house and used off the shelf technology from chip maker NXP and other embedded hardware and software providers. Mender provides the OTA updating capabilities to the device. Azure IoT Hub manages the fleet of hubs and the device provisioning service which allows the team to control and know about the device as soon as it comes off the production line and goes out into the field. Andrew says that Mender is essential for root file system and service application updates as the StreamSpot devices will be operating in 3G and 4G cellular connectivity environments. He continues “We won’t be the one device in the area consuming all the bandwidth, so the delta updating in Mender just pushes what needs to be pushed. It’s impressive and straightforward how all the services can be updated.” The integration of Mender with Azure IoT Hub which BuffaloGrid uses for device provisioning and telemetry management was also very crucial.
We wish Andrew and his colleagues well as they endeavour to help more people benefit from access to reliable connectivity, and digital skills and content to help them improve their lives.