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Containerized community centers rely on wireless satellite data links

Portable "intelligent community centers" could link every underdeveloped region of the world to the latest educational, medical, commerce and arts services, according to researchers on the Little Intelligent Communities (Lincos) project being developed by MIT and the Instituto Technologico de Costa Rica.

Two prototype units, built from recycled 20-foot cargo containers, were demonstrated on March 30 at the Media Laboratory and in Costa Rica. Both community centers feature telemedicine, computer classroom, banking, telecommunications and entertainment facilities.

Lincos initially seek to place community centers in 25 poor villages in Central America. The Costa Rican Foundation For Sustainable Development, headed by former Costa Rican President Jos� Maria Figueres, will take the lead role in construction and deployment of the community centers.

"By combining advanced construction methods using recycled materials and the latest digital communications technology, we will be able to bring first-class services anywhere in the world at a price that almost any country can afford," said Alex (Sandy) Pentland, academic head of the Media Lab and co-director of the Center for Future Health.

By using wireless Internet technology, the centers do not require a community to have land lines and other standard telecommunications infrastructure in order to obtain first-class information services. This technological independence equalizes the cost differences between richer and poorer societies, as well as urban and rural areas, making services possible in the poorest and most remote villages.

The community centers contain a wireless satellite data and local Internet links for data and voice communications. At a target cost of less than $100 per family, the centers will be able to provide telephone, e-mail and web services to the most remote villages on earth. In addition to the applications demonstrated today, future community centers will provide advanced ecological and agricultural testing facilities.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 7, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 25).

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