The BRCK is so much more than a 3G router. It is battery-powered, ruggedized, shockproof and cloud-managed meaning you can diagnose problems and even update the firmware and perform basic remote-rescue from anywhere in the world, all at a shelf price of approximately $200.
It’s next to impossible to outline all the features here. Have a look at the BRCK website for more information and updates.
Unfortunately as of May 2014, the BRCK is not yet commercially available but it is about to ship to it’s early kickstarter supporters. I contacted the BRCK team and traveled to their office in Nairobi Kenya to see them in person and share the HFC vision of a device that could not only do everything the BRCK did but also serve local content as a portable web server.
That was an amazing trip. As I pulled out all of our prototypes and solutions (the RuggedPi and the OpenWRT solutions), Erik and Phil laughed in amazement: we had been on a parallel course for at least the past twelve months and we shared an upgrade trail of almost exactly the same ideas. However, the BRCK team launched a successful kickstarter, mapped out an awesome plan and pulled together a dedicated team of no least than fifteen engineers to focus on their product full-time. And the result has been staggering. the BRCK is all we hoped for in a rugged, portable platform and more. And what’s more, I felt a real connection to Erik and Phil. They truly felt like kindred spirits.
The BRCK team hadn’t really considered using the BRCK to serve local content, and neither had they envisioned an immediate and impactful benefit for education and that’s where we are stepping in. The team was generous enough to provide us with a much-coveted early release BRCK and we’re already hard at work. Working alongside the RACHEL team and our own volunteer developers, we have already retrofitted static RACHEL content onto the BRCK making it a slam-dunk for educators in struggling areas. However, we have a few more milestones to hit.
- It’s great to have offline copies of educational material but teachers tell us they need a way to track student progress. As a stop-gap we intend to get Ka-Lite running on the BRCK.
- However, Ka-Lite has it’s limitations. While it’s a great solution and provides Khan exercises, student tracking and an update feature that makes downloading new Khan Academy videos a snap, the guys at Learning Equality are in a race they can never win. Khan Academy is constantly updating their videos and exercises, and their online-only exercise dashboard and roadmap tailors the learning experience for each student, features Ka-Lite lacks. We want to create a “hybrid mode” where schools with slow internet can provide direct access to Khan Academy through the BRCK (allowing each student to use their own user account with all the benefits) but when it comes time to watch a video, the BRCK plays the locally stored version instead of the online version, significantly reducing the bandwidth required to get an entire class working with Kahn. A future revision could also include a tailored cache that would grab new videos within specific parameters (Khan only, for example) as they are requested and store them on the BRCK for later local use.
- Local content that’s updated fairly often (like Wikipedia for Schools, Gutenberg, etc) is difficult to update. Right not it requires a full download of the package which is time-consuming and expensive in remote areas. We’re already working with WorldPossible to allow clients to download changes and updates instead of the whole package but we want the BRCK to synchronize this content with other BRCKs within wifi range. If this happened, one BRCK could get an update from the RACHEL website, and any time a BRCK is brought within range, all other BRCK would get those updates as well.
- Donor connectivity. I want people to buy these and have them deployed in remote areas, so that they can be used where they are needed most. But I want the donor to be able to see what’s going on with the BRCK. I want them to see what the students are up to, what people are checking out online, etc. So we want to create a non-administrative dashboard account which shows all this without allowing full control of the device. Thanks to the build in 4G modem, this should be viable, even if the donor (or someone else) needs to remotely add airtime if needed.
- More administrative control through the dashboard. I want to add the ability for administrators to manage lots of things including whitelists and blacklists. I know the dashboard can do lots of things, but I want to have the ability to manage the device fully through the dashboard, from anywhere in the world.
Technical / Build Details
Keep an eye on this page for notes on building RACHEL on the BRCK.