A group of undergraduates, calling themselves Team One Beep at the University of Auckland have developed a new kind of software which can get data to laptops without using the internet. Instead, they are using the am/fm radio network that already exists widely in many parts of Africa and South America, to transfer data on to OLPC laptops.
It does this by converting text and images into sound, broadcasting over am or fm, and the signal is then picked up by any old am/fm radio, and by means of a headphone cord into the laptop microphone, the data is reconverted back into text/image.
Many of the places where OLPC laptops are deployed have no internet access, often no electricity or even running water, which makes this seemingly simple solution all the more impressive. We are not yet talking about the data quantities that would allow the likes of Youtube and so forth, but this is a step in the right direction.
The next question is whether it is possible to work the system backwards, creating text/images and sending them out using this technology, the very thing which distinguishes Web 1.0 from Web 2.0. Jeet admits they are not quite at that stage yet, but they are working on this capability. Here is a link to an audio interview with Vinny Jeet (13 minutes) from Radio New Zealand's 'This Way Up' programme with Simon Morton.
So here's to using 'old' technology to solve the problems of the new!
(Image from 'My Friends Call Me Jack' on Flickr)