An open source project centered on mesh networking, IoT and LoRa connectivity could help emergency responders and victims stay in contact in the wake of natural disasters, said the head of Project OWL at the recent Open Source Summit.\nProject OWL\u2019s target is the disruption in communications that often follows natural disaster. Widespread outages, in both cellular and wired networks, frequently impede the flow of information about emergency services, supplies and a host of other critical concerns that have to be addressed in the wake of a major storm or other catastrophe.\n\nIt does this with an army of \u201cducks\u201d \u2013 small wireless modules that are cheap, simple-to-deploy and don\u2019t require the support of existing infrastructure. Some ducks are solar-powered, others have long-lasting batteries. A duck is equipped with a LoRa radio for communication with other ducks on the network, as well as with Wi-Fi and perhaps Bluetooth or GPS for additional functionality.\nThe idea is that, when networks are down, users can use their smartphones or laptops to make a Wi-Fi connection to a duck, which can relay small pieces of information to the rest of the network. Information propagates back along the network until it reaches a \u201cPapaduck,\u201d which is equipped with a satellite connection to the OWL data management system in the cloud. (OWL stands for \u201corganization, whereabouts, and logistics.\u201d) From the cloud, the information can be visualized on a smartphone or web app, or even plugged into existing systems via an API.\nThe secret sauce is in the ClusterDuck Protocol, the open source firmware that keeps\u00a0 information flowing even when some modules on the network aren\u2019t functional. It\u2019s designed to work on a wide range of cheap and easily accessed computing hardware \u2013 Raspberry Pis and the like \u2013 in order to make it easy to set up a ClusterDuck network quickly.\nThe project was prompted, according to founder Bryan Knouse, by the devastating hurricanes of 2017 and 2018, and the huge difficulties faced by affected communities in responding to them without adequate communications.\n\u201cA few of our founding members had been through these disasters, and we asked \u2018what do we do about this?\u2019\u201d he said.\nThe project has a cohort of students and professors at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, and most of the testing of the system happened there. Knouse said there are currently 17 solar-powered ducks nesting on rooftops and trees around campus, with plans to add more.\n\u201cThis relationship created an open-source community on the ground, these students and profs are helping us develop this,\u201d he said.