Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mesh Potato - One Yummy Project

The Linux Journal ran a neat little article on the Mesh Potato project. I have to say, as projects go, I'm really impressed.

First, what's a Mesh Potato?

As we were debating the options, someone grabbed an ATA (Analog Telephone Adaptor) and an OpenMesh AP and held them together and said, what we need is these two devices in one. And thus the idea for a Mesh Potato was born. The name Mesh Potato came from combining Mesh [as in Mesh networking] with POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) and ATA. Patata is Spanish for potato and Alberto Escudero-Pascual made the link…. The Mesh Potato…. a Mesh enabled WiFi device with an RJ11 port to connect an inexpensive regular phone and an RJ45 to connect any IP device.

In other words, a Mesh Potato is a bridge between an ordinary phone line and a WiFi computer network.

And why would need such a thing? The current use is to develop a Villege Telco - a cheap telephone company that can easily be setup in a remote location. Like I said, I'm impressed by the effort - and here's why:

The software is slick. I love the whole mesh networking model. It's actually one of the cool features from the OLPC project that I haven't seen mainstreamed yet. Why, when I'm at a hotel or airport, can't I just become a mesh point and join forces with those around me to build up an instant and free network? OK, it's a security nightmare, but still - seems like it could be really useful.

The social impact is impressive. Think about it, how hard is it to build infrastructure without a large central authority behind the task? And here's evidence that you don't need to build infrastructure that way. I also wonder if the technology has a life beyond the third-world? What about using the Mesh Potato in a Katrina type situation. How valuable would it be to have the ability to establish a communications grid by simply walking through neighborhoods and dropping off devices?

The technology is open to all. The project not only makes use of open source software, but also open source hardware. There's a trend taking shape that suggests you don't need to start with off the shelf hardware - and that seems really promising. I'm not a hardware geek, so this is all conceptual to me. But, I love the idea of being able to make a device that does just what it's supposed to - rather than having to put up with a totally general purpose one. Think the difference between a TiVo and running television software on your PC.

As if that all wasn't enough, I think they nailed the name too.

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