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Voice Board and Group SMS for Burning Man

Posted on August 25, 2011 by Adam Kalsey

This is a true testimonial to the power of running Tropo in a Private Cloud using generators for disaster relief or business continuity or for handling communications for events like Burning Man!

This rack includes Tropo and OpenBTS communications equipment for powering Burning Man’s Tropo Voice Board and Group SMS apps!

Once a year, tens of thousands of BurningMan participants gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.  Black Rock Desert (or the Playa as Burners refer to it) is an isolated region with no electricity, running water, or communications.

Tropo has partnered with Range Networks and GWOB to setup a local OpenBTS-powered cell tower to provide both Tropo-powered Voice and SMS communications services to the Burners on the Playa.

Custom Private Cloud Tropo applications have been developed to deliver a social voice mail solution – or better yet – an asynchronous voice board messaging platform as well as a Group SMS solution like Facebook’s new messaging app but for local Burners only.

This is what the Voice Board application looks like if you were to connect to the Tropo server using a local IP address!  It’s basically a Ruby on Rails 3.1 application utilizing Tropo’s Scripting API and small Ruby script.  The website is designed to allow the outside world to interface with the Burners, provided we can establish a good satellite data uplink (more details to follow). The website grabs the latest BurningMan-tagged Flickr image and associates it with a voice memo being streamed while enjoying photos from the event.

Burners can call into our Voice Board application to record social voice memos and listen to public messages left by other Burners on the voice board. If a recording is in progress when a new call comes in, it automagically  becomes a conference room party line and continues recording the chat from the participants.

The conference room recording simply becomes another voice memo like the others – presented in descending order to new callers. As you listen to voice memos, they automagically get marked as read and disappear from your list. The Voice Board application loops through options (record memo or listen to memos) while the call isActive and lets you leave multiple voice memos or join the conference after listening to memos (if one is in progress)!

The Voice Board application also includes a Group SMS application which is available only for the local Burners. Any one who has called the Voice Board or texted a message to the Tropo Group SMS app will automagically be added to the Group SMS distribution list for the duration of the event.  They will receive text messages from other Burners any time the Voice Board is sent a text message!

The source code for our the Tropo-powered Voice Board and Group SMS application can be found at

We are also in the process of establishing a satellite data connection to allow for VoIP connectivity of these communications applications to the outside world allowing the Burners to actually make real phone calls to anyone in North America.  This is powered byt the Public Cloud service.  If communications with the outside world can be established, Tropo will be sponsoring an unlimited number of 5 minute phone calls from the Playa to any phone number in North America to allow Burners to stay in touch with loved ones and to provide an additional route for emergency communications.

We are proudly embracing the BurningMan experience and we hope to gain more experience in using Tropo to deliver real-time communications services in times of disaster and business continuity programs as well as allowing our customers and telcos/carriers to run Tropo’s cloud communications API and platform in their own data centers and private voice clouds.

For more information on about Tropo’s involvement and applications used in the BurningMan event, please refer to our blog post below or contact Chris Matthieu at chris [at]

2 Responses

  1. […] Tropo Blog Post:  Voice Board and Group SMS for BurningMan […]

  2. Ted Gilchrist says:

    I just ran into the guy responsible for disaster preparedness at the local hospital here, and I gave him a pointer to this blog post. Seems like the technology could be interesting to him, but I’d be curious what you guys think. Don’t suppose it would be ready for Irene, but there always those howling Nor’Easters this winter.

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