Former NAIT students honoured for developing concept to bring internet to off-grid, remote communities
23, Nov, 2021
EDMONTON, NOV. 23, 2021 – A former team of NAIT students has received a provincial honour for creating a cost-effective concept for providing internet access to off-grid and remote communities where internet and even power are lacking. They have been recognized as a finalist for the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) Capstone Project of the Year Award.
The cross-discipline Capstone Project involved former NAIT alternative energy technology (ALTE) students Jacob Maxwell, Natasha Bergstrom-Baier and Abdallah Farah teaming up with former NAIT wireless systems engineering technology (WSET) students Steven Sager and Spencer Tracy to develop and comprehensively test their system concept.
The concept uses a wirelessly distributed Starlink-based solution with a custom solar battery power supply for off-grid use. Starlink is part of Elon Musk's company, SpaceX, which is launching thousands of satellites to build the Starlink internet relay mega-constellation in low-earth orbit. Starlink offers several advantages over traditional satellite internet services, enabling the former NAIT team to fulfil the goals for the concept.
By utilizing a Starlink user terminal as the core of a wireless internet service provider network, the concept can provide internet access to many people in a small village area. The former ALTE students built the working scale solar battery power system. The former WSET students tested the network devices for power use and functionality, prepared installation procedures, and also determined what kind of equipment should be used on the wireless distribution side of the project. They ultimately confirmed that the concept works.
The concept offers significant benefits, not the least of which is its cost-effectiveness compared to existing options.
“We estimated that the material cost of using our concept’s system in remote but sun rich parts of the world is less than $10,000,” said Maxwell. “That is far less expensive than the cost of building and maintaining an electrical and internet grid infrastructure in those locations.”
Internet availability is not only important for social connection, entertainment and acquiring a vast array of knowledge, education and health information, it’s been proven to support economic growth in remote communities where it is introduced.
“This Capstone Project has the potential to bring the world closer together through technology that has been out of reach for many people,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “It’s an excellent example of engineering technology students innovating an idea that contributes to the public good. This former NAIT team has scaled it to have a truly global impact.”
The former NAIT team’s project is one of seven finalists named by ASET for the Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project will be announced later this year.
In addition to handing out the Capstone Project of the Year Award to deserving engineering technology students, the ASET Education and Scholarship Foundation provides scholarships, bursaries and educational funding to enhance and support the education of students pursuing engineering technology studies.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 16,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET