One of the challenges of my project, from a technical perspective, is the non-urban environment it is situated in. Whilst it’s well and good to say that the solution will be context-aware and mobile, the reality is that the infrastructure that we take for granted in cities simply does not exist in a national park that is 3 hours from a major urban centre.

In one sense this is what (I hope) makes my research unique – we can’t gorge ourselves on infrastructure. 3G Networks are sparse, if not unrealiable, and WiFi is a pipe dream. GPS does exist and can be counted on, but when the core of the project is around the sharing and creation of knowledge, ideally in real-time, having an accurate reading of a ranger’s location is nice but not enough. There’s data involved, and quite possibly large quantities.

So – how do we facilitate this kind of knowledge ecosystem when the tubes are narrow, or don’t exist at all?

Well, the first thing a good researcher does is to peek over someone else’s shoulder. Although they may seem like polar opposites, the most similar environment I can think of that resembles a national park in terms of infrastructure is – wait for it – a plane.

This may change in the coming years (months?), but as it stands, planes have almost the same characteristics as a park. Sparse network access with absolutely no data connection, GPS works, but only if you’re even allowed to use your location-aware device at all.

Offline data storage is the obvious answer. WindowSeat App is an iOS application that stores offline data about points of interest you may be hurtling over at a given point in time. Its data set is fairly finite, so this model works well – however, in an app that is perceived as, and by necessity is, disconnected, how much of a barrier will there be to people wanting to contribute back to that data pool? Can we rely on people to sync, or should we be bold enough to make that decision for them?

The above picture is a phone tower disguised as a tree in Masai Mara National Park, Kenya


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