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The Internet is both a channel and a strategic tool for sharing knowledge and information. Internet communication services and exchange platforms have dramatically changed professional and university practices. Since the explosion of Web 2.0, a computer and a connection are all it takes to follow an online university course or organize a videoconferencing working session. Courses and meetings are now more flexible and more affordable. But you still need a telecommunications network and electricity. In a white zone—a territory with no mobile phone network or Internet—other Internet networks like satellite or radio waves can be used. However, for economic or political reasons, there are places in the world where even these solutions are not available.
Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) have given a lot of thought to conflict areas and refugee camps, where a lack of resources hinders access to education. The team, trained by researchers in training and learning technology (TECFA) from UNIGE’s Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (FPSE), designed a stand-alone box that allows educational content to be stored and shared. The technology is called the Beekee Box and it generates its own electrical power and wireless network, allowing instructors to transfer their lectures and interact with learners free from space or time constraints.
How to use the Beekee Box
Instructors store their material on the platform housed in the box, whose functions can be adapted to user needs. Groups can connect to the Beekee Box with a computer, smartphone or tablet and communicate in real time through Beekee Live. This feature allows learners to participate in the training by answering questions, posting multimedia content or by sharing files and is a way to initiate discussions in a class or other context. “Everything remains confidential and compartmentalised in the Beekee Box, a definite asset in the protection of personal data,” claims Stéphane Morand, systems engineer at TECFA.
Team members Vincent Widmer, Sergio Estupiñán, Julien Venni, and Morand launched the Beekee Box project, which offers another advantage to humanitarian organizations, allowing them to manufacture their own box and program their own platform.
The Beekee Box has up to 256 GB in data storage capacity and can run for about 3 hours. It can also operate for more than 10 hours with an external battery, rechargeable with solar energy. The device is 10 cm high and 6.5 cm wide and its hexagon shell is 3D-printed from recyclable plastics. The camera is equipped with a microcomputer and a battery module and operates with software developed by the team. “It is also based on Open Source technologies—like the MoodleBox designed by Nicolas Martignoni from Freiburg—and can be modified to specific needs.”
Its wireless network has a maximum range of 50 metres, which varies depending on site conditions. Up to 25 users can connect to the box at once.
The team is currently testing the casing at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, in collaboration with the UNIGE InZone project. This organization develops approaches to multilingual communication and higher education in communities affected by conflict and crisis. With only 12 computers in the InZone training room, the Beekee Box allows more refugees to receive training. About 190,000 refugees live in the camp, most of whom have smart phones.