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March 13, 2015

Design Challenge: $10,000 to build a micro-data center chassis

Inveneo has announced a $10,000 prize for the best design of a chassis for a solar-powered micro-data center. This design challenge is the latest step in the work to improve electronics hardware in developing countries. The winning design will go to use on a Pacific island, running cloud-based software and dishing out educational content.

Unique problems plague electronics hardware in developing countries. Besides the usual drops, dunks and spills, digital devices in the global south contend with extra heat and humidity, dust, bugs in the cooling fans and spotty electricity. Bruce Baikie, who heads Inveneo, and colleagues led a survey last year that identified the weak spots that hardware designers should target when building products for developing countries. The findings were not surprising. Respondents said that the best devices are low-cost, bomb-proof power sippers that require little maintenance or technical support.

But the exercise was an important first step toward better design. From that the micro-data center challenge follows. This advance in computing hardware can complement projects in which Baikie has been involved, like solar-powered laptop stations in Haiti and island-hopping, long-distance Wi-Fi for schools in Micronesia.


The chassis should accommodate ARM-based microserver boards like Raspberry Pi. And it should handle a hot and humid climate with passive cooling. It must also use a DC power supply to run directly from solar panels, and it has to have a battery, a gigabit switch and racks for 15 micro-computer boards and 10 solid state drives.

Expert judges will rate the designs on the issues that turned up in last year’s survey, including cost, durability, how easy it is to maintain and repair and so on.

Apply by June 10 and the winner will be announced on July 15.

For details and to register please see Inveneo’s page on the challenge.

You may also find tips in a recent E4C webinar that Baikie and Laura Hosman at CalPoly led on last year’s survey: Emerging Markets | Top ICT4D Hardware Challenges.

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