As the debate over Net Neutrality rages on between service providers and conscious consumers, one massive group is left out of the fray: the nearly 4 billion people worldwide that do not have access to the internet.
As ubiquitous as it is in North America, Asia and Europe, the internet is actually quite a scarce commodity. It is almost as rare as clean drinking water in some parts of Africa, South America, and even rural parts of the United States.
In recent months, Google and Facebook have both launched efforts to address this deficit with plans to proliferate the internet around the world via low orbit drones or even Wi-Fi enabled weather balloons. These ingenious ideas have enormous potential to change humanity for the better. The only problem is that it could very well take a decade or more to iron out the logistics of floating or flying an internet-enabled aircraft through foreign airspace.
That’s where Outernet comes in.
Founded in 2012, this Chicago-based startup has developed a technology that would provide people in isolated areas of the world with free access to internet data via satellites. For free. Right now.
Consider it the Trojan Horse in the race to provide free web access to every person on Earth.
Outernet approached us to help them bring their vision of a more informed future to life.
Our team of industrial designers, mechanical engineers, art directors and content producers collaborated with Outernet’s team to develop a product and message born from the same point of inspiration: that information should be a natural resource.
The team sketched objects alongside storyboards, allowing one to inform the other. The result was a product and presentation that were as inventive as they were intuitive.
The 24” satellite receiver was designed and engineered to fold into a small footprint 14” in diameter. The outer band around the case was designed to be protective and act as a handle.
The protective lid transforms into the device’s base, and the handle can be used to secure the dish to any surface through the use of screws or anchors.
The device’s dish required the development of custom “U” shaped hinges. The hinges not only help fold the dish into the most compact shape possible, but they also ensure that the dish's shape is seamless and parabolic when the dish is in the open position.
The device has only one button: power. When the device is turned on, it automatically begins to search for satellites and streams information across its local network. The device also offers USB ports for external power or data sources.
Rotation and Articulation
Depending on where in the world the device is being used, it can rotate 150 degrees and angle from 10 to 75 degrees to receive content from satellites orbiting the Earth.
Concepts were driven from two distinct directions: functionality and usability.
Because the device had to be 24” in diameter when in use, a large portion of the team’s conceptualization was focused purely on how to make a parabolic shape fold into the smallest shape possible. In parallel, the team was also focused on making that shape intuitive and robust.
After exploring several radical mechanical concepts, the team landed on a fairly innovative, yet pragmatic folding solution inspired by a vegetable steamer.
Aesthetically, the concept began to reference vessels commonly used to transport water, as the satellite would be providing information that could be equally as important to the user’s sustenance.
By building mockups from studies and bread board models from the very beginning, our team was capable of refining the functionality of the mechanism and proving out the concept while also creating a desirable aesthetic.
The result of this agile process was the creation of a highly-functional “looks like” prototype in just under a few weeks.
The prototype served as a tangible manifestation of Outernet’s vision for making information more accessible.
In tandem with the hardware design and engineering, our team developed storyboards and scripts for a short video about Outernet’s mission and potential.
By integrating art directors and copywriters into our team of industrial designers and engineers, we were capable of allowing the hardware to inspire the message, and the story to inform the device’s form.
The end result? An object and a message that are cohesive and compelling.