The self-driving startup founder is building a decentralized telecommunications network

2022-05-19 0 By

The project was born out of his self-driving startup, Pronto.A new mobile data network — complete with a website, Medium posts, white papers, dedicated Subreddit and Discord channels — quietly launched Tuesday night in San Francisco, promising a new way to exchange data anonymously and at high speed, without relying on traditional carriers, and at a cheaper price.The peer-to-peer open-source wireless network, pollan Mobile, will incentivize its users with cryptocurrency to run their own mini Mobile towers and build coverage in the Bay Area, where the service was originally launched.Anthony Lewandowski’s self-driving car tech startup Pronto AI is starting the project.Lewandowski, an early pioneer in the self-driving car industry, was pardoned by former President Donald Trump last year after serving an 18-month prison sentence on one charge of stealing trade secrets.Why would a self-driving car startup want to create a decentralized telecom powered by cryptocurrencies?Levandowski, who remains Pronto’s CEO, told media in a text conversation that the catalyst for Pollen Mobile came from Pronto’s need for reliable, affordable Mobile connectivity for its self-driving cars.Pronto has been using Pollen internally for its self-driving cars for several months.”The reason is simple: our self-driving cars need reliable, affordable mobile connectivity and we can’t find it,” he wrote.So we built our own and realized that this could be something someone else would want, too.””He added later.Necessity is the mother of invention.The distributed Pollen mobile network, which is scheduled to begin its initial rollout in the next few days, relies on a network of data transmitters it somewhat bizarrely calls flowers, bumblebees and hummingbirds – radio towers, connected verification devices and codes for mobile phones.According to its Post on Medium, a 2020 FCC rule change allows the company to build its own base stations and create tiny mobile networks for locations where its self-driving vehicles operate.We started thinking about all the other things that people don’t like about existing mobile companies.”We saw an opportunity to build something truly revolutionary — to address what we consider the ‘four Horsemen’ of the mobile web,” says the Medium blog post.The “four Horsemen” are lack of privacy and anonymity, poor coverage, high cost and no user voice.The small base stations, called flowers, range from the size of a pizza box to six feet tall and provide coverage from a few blocks to a mile.The flowers are installed by “flower owners” in their homes or offices and connected to the Internet to provide cover for other pollen users.According to information the company posts on its Discord channel, pollen operators earn pollen coins (PCNS) from their user base, depending on coverage area, quality of service and amount of data transferred.Carriers pay upfront for the physical data transmitter hardware, which costs $999 for the cheapest (minimum) and over $10,000 for the largest and most powerful transmitters.Justifying the high upfront fees means that operators take a leap of faith that the network will succeed and that the fixed supply value of THE PCN will increase.One of the many open questions about this nascent effort is how or whether Internet service providers will respond — distributed networks will hitch a ride on operators’ home Internet and will deliver peer-to-peer data through these networks.The network currently has more than a dozen radio towers operating in the Bay Area, according to the company’s web tracker data.Pollen Mobile will ship small devices called Bumblebees to collect data on the strength of network coverage.The devices to verify “flower” coverage are also owned by users and can be placed in their car, drone or bike.Bumblebee owners also earn PCNS based on the number of unique coverage validations provided each day.Finally, there are hummingbirds, mobile devices that use pollen networks.Mobile phones need to download an eSIM card to connect to the network, while other devices such as laptops can be connected via a special adapter called a “wing,” the company said.Users pay for connections using PCN.Ultimately building a network of users willing to pay for the earliest stages of a data network will depend on selling a more anonymous mobile network that does not sell or record customer data.Data-only networks also don’t allow phone calls or text messages, and users who pay for the service don’t get a phone number.Until now, Pollen has been run internally by Pronto as a subsidiary.It will be handed over to a decentralized autonomous organization, known as eDAO, and run independently from there, Levandowski said.The organization will ultimately manage the evolution of the network and decide how and where to incentivize users to build coverage.””We don’t control where the flowers go, “Levandowksi told the outlet.”We design the network so that community and market forces determine where the rewards go.”