Entries for April 2013

April 22, 2013

Idea: A Router Emergency Switch

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I saw a lot of tweets calling for businesses in the area to open up their Wi-Fi so people can contact their loved ones during a period where cell phone networks were so congested that calls and texts couldn’t go through. I wondered whether a business owner — or whatever employee happens to be around that day — would even know how to open their Wi-Fi in a crisis.

So what if business-class routers included a Router Emergency Switch? It could be implemented either as a big red physical button on the router itself, or an easy-to-find software trigger. In a crisis, it’s an easy way to open your network.

I know what you’re thinking: if it’s that easy to open the router, isn’t there potential for abuse? Couldn’t it be triggered in non-emergency settings? Not if it’s done right. When you set up your router for the first time, you would also set up the Emergency settings. Heres an example of what a typical setup might do when the Emergency Switch is pulled:

1) Create a new Wi-Fi Guest Network so your own network is still secure.

2) Change the Wi-Fi Guest Network name to “USE THIS NETWORK DURING EMERGENCY” or something similar so people know it’s available.

3) Automatically bring people who access that network to a portal page with links to local and national news websites, local and national emergency websites, popular webmail sites, and maybe some first aid tips or other similar information.

4) Optionally open access to the entire internet, or just to specific sites to use during an emergency, depending on how trusting/paranoid the business owner is.

5) E-mail the business owner to alert him or her that the emergency switch has been activated.

6) Automatically turn off the guest network after a preset time period (perhaps a week?) in case the business owner forgets.

It seems like there’s only a very slim chance you’d ever need to use this. The odds of your business being within Wi-Fi signal’s reach of a catastrophe seem pretty low. So maybe this is the sort of thing that doesn’t have enough payoff to make the trouble worthwhile. But in that rare instance, it could end up being useful.

April 18, 2013

Cell Phone Inventor Marty Cooper

Cell phone inventor Marty Cooper has a lot of interesting thoughts about cell phones and related technologies. It was tough distilling our 40 minute conversation into such a short video, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first ever cell phone call, which he describes in the video below. Enjoy!

See more episodes of my PBS INVENTORS series here!