Meet the bluebox new technology, built locally, could help revolutionize education in developing nations sponsored by creighton university omaha.com gas density units

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With the components scattered on Braymen’s desk and the developmental work done by the RaD Lab, the box, a simple composite plastic box, is a one-stop charging station for devices and a wireless hotspot through which educational materials — commensurate to about 10,000 webpages — can be accessed on mobile devices and tablets, potentially revolutionizing education and the general dissemination of knowledge in parts of the world where textbooks are a rarity.

A prototype of the box was installed outside Creighton’s Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library in November, and Braymen traveled to the Dominican Republic later in the month to install another Blue Box in a remote village where electricity and internet access do not exist.

The whole apparatus is powered via a solar panel attached to a battery similar to that found in a car, meaning interruptions on the electrical grid won’t be as crippling a problem as they typically are for people who rely on cellphones and tablets for contact with the outside world.

The journey to the first Creighton BlueBox began when Braymen was on a mission trip to Tanzania in southeastern Africa. While there, Braymen learned the paramount place a smartphone has in the lives of people living on the margins of infrastructure, and how schools with few resources stretch what little they do have past the limits.

“When the electricity can be out for days at a time, a cell phone can be a lifeline,” he said. “And when 10 students are gathered around a single textbook or tablet, and that tablet is reliant on the electrical grid to access the internet, and the internet is enormously expensive, I just got to thinking there has to be a better way.”

Looking for an affordable, sustainable means of keeping phones on and kids learning, Braymen encountered World Possible, a nonprofit organization maintaining a series of open-source educational websites — tens of thousands of them offering information on everything from learning basic math to managing livestock to building a greenhouse.

“If a village doesn’t have a doctor — and many of the remote ones do not — you can find basic health care information,” Braymen said. “Beyond that, a lot of schools in this world don’t have access to updated textbooks, don’t have access to the number of textbooks they need in a class with 10, 15, 20 students. To be able to install this device in the middle of a village, make it solar-powered and get students access, there’s huge potential here for learning.”

For under $400 for the box with solar equipment, Braymen, with his economist’s purview, imagines the BlueBox could be an efficient, sleek alternative to potentially pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the latest hardware and internet streaming services that are intermittent at best in the world’s far-flung regions.

All Braymen had to do was figure out a way to get the websites in the hands of the people — mostly by ensuring a power source and a means to making sure the content was always available and could be supported on at least 10 to 12 devices at any one time.

“I was immediately excited about it because it’s one of those projects where you can see an end result that is enormously helpful to people,” Maaske said. “When Charlie came to us and talked about the light in people’s eyes when they had access to this content, we couldn’t wait to get started. Even before it was assigned, the interns and I were building out the basics for the prototype.”

Loading the open-source World Possible software onto a playing-card sized computer — the Raspberry Pi card — and wiring eight USB ports inside a composite plastic box, Maaske and Nichols completed an initial prototype of the BlueBox in August.

“I want to see students from business, from Spanish, from business information and analytics — an interdisciplinary team that deploys the technology and gets deep into it and reflecting on it, coming up with better ideas than I’ve had here,” Braymen said. “And I hope out of that practicum course we’re developing a sustainable program to carry forward and that uses the unique skill our students have acquired at Creighton. It speaks to the overall mission of the University.”