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Code and Response

Creating and deploying open source technologies to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges

IBM Developer sat down with Bryan Knouse, CEO and Co-Founder of Project Owl (winner of the 2018 Call for Code Global Challenge) to learn about Project Owl’s newest open source contribution and how it’s challenging developers around the world to get involved.

What is Project OWL and how did it get involved with IBM and The Linux Foundation?

Project Owl is a cloud-based analytics tool that helps facilitate Organization, Whereabouts, and Logistics (Owl, for short) for disaster response. Our team developed a mesh network of Internet of Things (IoT) devices called “DuckLinks” that can be deployed or activated in disaster areas to quickly re-establish connectivity and improve communication between first responders and civilians in need.

In 2018, we won the inaugural Call for Code Global Challenge. Our idea rose to the top from over 100,000 participants from 156 nations and we won the opportunity to work with IBM’s Code and Response initiative with The Linux Foundation, to help us build, fortify, test and launch our solution to help communities in need.

How important is open source to the development of Project OWL’s offerings?

Open source is at the core of our mission. We build technology that helps communities prepare for and deal with natural disasters by deploying communication networks to places that may not have any, or infrastructure that may have been destroyed during a natural disaster. We’ve worked with The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit organization that enables mass innovation through open source, since 2018 and just released our IoT device firmware as open source to help developers build mesh network nodes for global emergency communications networks anywhere in the world.

Becoming part of The Linux Foundation community under the Code and Response umbrella project is a huge boost in accelerating our goal to help communities better prepare for and mitigate impacts when hurricanes, floods or earthquakes strike.

Can you tell us more about the impact that open source will have on developers and what you hope developers will build on top of your firmware?

I think one of the most powerful aspects of our ClusterDuck protocol, which the DuckLinks are built on, is that it provides a basic foundation for a wide array of creative, technical projects you can build. We haven’t even scratched the surface on all the projects to build and we want to open this to the creativity and ingenuity of developers all over the word. We’re expecting greater, faster advancements in messaging, security, reliability and solutions that more effectively support local communities – wherever they may be, from developers around the world.

Project Owl integrates the ClusterDuck Protocol in our devices we build for communities, the private sector, and the government. As the open source community works with us to iterate this protocol, we hope to not only support more developers with great technology, but expect that Project Owl can continue to leverage a growing and ever improving open source project in our business.

How will open source help the Owl team scale globally?

With help from IBM and The Linux Foundation, we officially open sourced the ClusterDuck protocol. Our hope is that by open sourcing this device firmware, we can encourage millions of developers around the world to help us make this innovative solution a reality and help communities in need. Making this open source means we can get this technology into the hands of developers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to use it. If we limited our source of concepts and creativity to only the team in the room, we can only source that set of ideas from a few people. Communities around the world all face unique challenges and need solutions that work on a local level. We want to build a solution that can quickly scale and help any community anywhere.

Open source enables an organization like Project Owl to expand on the ideas of millions of developers to continue to build game-changing technology for the world.

How can developers access and add to your life-saving technology?

If you’re a developer, a creative, or if you’re just passionate about new technology and solutions that can make an impact, you can visit ClusterDuckProtocol.org. There are also GitHub links for you to download, install, and then build with the ClusterDuck protocol. Or if you just have great ideas, you want to contribute and peek inside the conversation going on at Project Owl, come join our Slack channel at www.project-owl.com/slack where you can connect with hundreds of other developers from around the world working on this project. We’re always looking for new perspectives and ideas and hope to see you there.

Can you give an update on Project Owl’s impact in the field?

In March 2019, Project Owl and IBM took on a large-scale pilot trip to Puerto Rico, deploying over 63 ducks each covering two square miles. This was followed by two additional pilots in the west and southeast of the island, engaging with local students, businesses, government representatives, and first responders. In December of 2019, we went back to the island and updated our devices and showed our technology to representatives from the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA). Today there are 30 permanent, solar-powered devices deployed across Puerto Rico in areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, fire or other weather conditions.

Visit www.clusterduckprotocol.org to see more info about the tech, current projects, and how you can get involved. There you will find documentation and videos how to dig in regardless of your skill set.

IBM Developer Staff