M.I.T. - Media Lab

M. Resnick, A. Pentland

Health Special Interest Group

J. Paradiso, R. Picard,
S. Manalis, A. Pentland

unWired, Unwiring the World

A Practical Plan: The Little Intelligent Communities Project

If we can enhance the meaning of democracy to include "Information Technology" in the developing world, by dramatically increasing people's access to it, we can narrow the gap between those that are lagging behind and those at the forefront of personal opportunities and development.

Searching for ways to implement this concept, the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development has been working on several initiatives. One of these programs is LINCOS (Little Intelligent Communities). LINCOS calls for the deployment of a "Community Center for the 21st Century" in any small village or town, giving those that live there immediate access to a wide array of information technologies.

The Costa Rica Foundation for Sustainable Development invited the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica (ITCR), the Center for Future Health at the University of Rochester, and others, to collaborate on the implementation of this initiative.

The Foundation for Sustainable Development is lead by José María Figueres Olsen, former president of Costa Rica and head of the Foundation. The Media Laboratory effort is lead by Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Academic Head of the Laboratory. The result is a plan to unwire dozens of underdeveloped villages in Central America beginning this year.

This project is an initiative for people in developing countries, particularly those of Latin America, to empower themselves with the use of information technology. It is implemented through the deployment of "digital town centers'' in remote villages. The physical design of these centers is an elegant tension structure surrounding a modified ISO shipping container. The container has a digital satellite link and integrated local wireless telephone connection, analytical laboratories, telemedicine services, a computer lab, electronic commerce and banking services, and a multi-purpose information center.

Designed to be built inexpensively in the developing countries themselves, it provides sophisticated local digital communications, and supports a wide range of applications in education, health, agriculture, and entertainment. It stimulates community grass root activity around its services, and hopes to become a true "community center". Deployment should be possible in the worst possible conditions of underdevelopment.

There are three immediate objectives for this project:

  1. Test and evaluate the project's feasibility in the field.
  2. If feasible, enroll partner organizations in a collaborative agreement to further develop, design, build, and deploy the concept.
  3. And finally, provide an opportunity for experts in developed and developing nations to work together, thus building unwiring know-how.

The first concrete goal of this project is to design and construct two prototype "digital town centers" in Costa Rica. At our March 30 inaugural event one center will be exhibited in Costa Rica, and the other one at the M.I.T. Media Laboratory, teleconferenced together using their satellite communications link.

J.M. Figueres, A. Cruz,
J. Barrios, A. Pentland

Practical Plan
Central Themes
Physical Structure

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