benbenet jumpstart: connecting 2.5 billion people with satellites

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A jumpstart to help 2.5 billion people connect to each other with satellites? Sign us up!

Today, exactly that number of people don’t have access to the same modern communications infrastructure that we in the Western hemisphere do. benbenet is an organisation founded to develop technology to bring that infrastructure to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” – people who get by on just $2 a day. So, last week it was time to jumpstart our hearts out again by coding an NFC app for messaging and banking independently from existing networks using satellites! Tuesday was a serious deadline to shine with a working prototype, as that was when the big demo for prospective investors and experts who are in charge of making the pilot a reality took place.

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benbenet

benbenet is an initiative founded by Pieter and Vuk to bring communication and financial services to people who normally have no access to means of online communication and banking systems, which are the two critical resources to escape poverty.

benbenet’s solution is digital inclusion. It wants to do that by building a resilient, ubiquitous, independent network with low cost satellites; developing a low cost device for text and payment; giving free access to the abovementioned “bottom of the pyramid”, and letting providers pay for this access. A goal that can come across as a moonshot to some, but we believe it’s achievable when taken on in the right order.

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Jumpstart

That’s where our jumpstart comes in. Such an ambitious goal can come across as unattainable to prospective investors. They hear a lot of pitches and, well, they just want to see proof. Proof that this is the solution they want to get involved with. In this case that’s a working prototype of the device and its software that’s able to text and make payments both on- and offline, independently from existing commercial networks. This working prototype shows that on a technical level there are no limitations to reaching the final goal. It’s a proof that shows how viable benbenet’s vision is.

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This jumpstart consisted of one week of realtime coding and interface designing. We started off the week by brainstorming with benbenet about which features were musts for the demo and which were nice-to-haves. We wanted to prove whether it’s plausible to get this project off the ground together and whether people will use the system. So the prototype after this week should technically work and be user friendly for low-literacy and even illiterate people. Therefore, it should be able to text and pay both on- and offline and have an intuitive interface. Both goals we achieved during this one-week jumpstart!

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Demo

The final demo on Tuesday was our hard deadline. It was in front of prospective investors and the experts who are in charge of getting the pilot funded, so it was good motivation to have the best proof of concept ready to see, hold and actually test. Our NFC app on the FAMOCO Android device left everyone in the room in awe when it intuitively onboarded everyone, connected to others, updated their balances and let them text and send money to each other by a simple bump of devices. A successful proof that technology-wise, benbenet has nothing holding them back.

By building a comprehensive intuitive app, this jumpstart showed what can be achieved in just one week! The next step is to refine and define it even more. It’s time to test the device and app in real life. That will be done in a township in South Africa. This pilot will show how benbenet’s business model can work and how our technology can improve everyday life and create better living conditions for the bottom of the pyramid. Keep an eye on us and benbenet if you want to stay in the loop.

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