Mesh Potato is an Open Hardware project to create a wireless (mesh) access point that can function as an independent cellular phone network. The goal is to enable groups around the world to offer affordable voice and data services to small communities that cannot afford existing service from the major telcos (or who must use exorbitant but low barrier to entry pay-as-you-go services).
Also quite cool – the design principles underlying their project and goals. By way of Roland I read this article by Steve Song who recounts the strategy, inspired by Ethan Zuckerman’s idea of Innovating From Constraint:
With the Village Telco, we have a wireless project that has a number of self-imposed constraints.
- Get pay-as-you-go voice services right. Data services are a given on a wireless platform but the one thing we want to make bullet-proof is affordable, simple-to-bill voice services.
- Make a telco as simple to set up as a wordpress blog. Wireless meshes, least-cost-routing, etc. Let’s make as much of that complexity disappear into default behaviours that can be tweaked as the owner/entrepreneur becomes more comfortable with the product.
- Be as open as possible. This is more of a philosophical than a practical constraint. We believe we can attract maximum participation by making software and hardware as open as possible. We believe that Open Hardware strategies devices like the Mesh Potato can change the way people think about hardware.
- Break even in six months. The technology ought to be cheap enough and easy enough to deploy that anyone with a reasonable head for business could have recouped their investment and be making a profit in six months.
Simplicity, rather than constraint, seems to be the operative theme here. Still, as a musical aside, this recalls for me Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which is similar in principle (limiting options to incite creative thinking), but which operates on aesthetic endeavor (which is about much more than “problem solving”, ultimately).