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Making It

Flying Swarm Of Robots Gives Protesters And Activists Free Wi-Fi, On The Go

Electronic Countermeasures was inspired by the communications blackouts that stalled the Egyptian protests of 2011.

Flying Swarm Of Robots Gives Protesters And Activists Free Wi-Fi, On The Go

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the government unplugged the Internet. Protesters were left without Internet, and thereby the ability to communicate even locally, instantly.

Electronic Countermeasures is a project by Liam Young of think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today and Unknown Fields Division, with assistance from Eleanor Saitta, Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu, and Superflux. The project is essentially an autonomous, roaming Internet swarm, constructed from repurposed UAVs.

"These drones would fly off and hover above the city, and create ad hoc connections and networks in a new form of nomadic territorial infrastructure," Young tells Co.Design, "a flock of interactive autonomous drones that form their own place specific, temporary, local, Wi-Fi community—a pirate Internet."

Rather than carry satellites to uplink to the greater Internet, Young imagines his swarm as a highly site-specific means to create peer-to-peer communication (think text messaging or the old Napster file sharing model). And in this regard, Young actually views Electronic Countermeasures as a form of nomadic architecture—a roaming infrastructure built from digital beams rather than steel—like a drifting island of information.

"Architecture is typically such a slow medium and we wanted to develop alternative strategies for how an architect may operate and alternative forms of projects that could play out with much more immediacy," he writes.

There’s no reason the idea couldn’t scale. Rather than a team of five robots, you could have a team of 5,000, casting a much wider net. Or you could always add peer-to-peer sharing across our existing devices, from cell phones to televisions to even the next wave of refrigerators. The next revolution could be a shockingly domestic affair.