Plan for Secret Satellite Receivers Wins Hackathon to Help North Korea

Cut off from outside communication and at the whim of a despotic political leader, the people of North Korea are in a bad place. The conditions in the country inspired the Human Rights Foundation to help North Koreans by holding a hackathon. And the winners came up with a clever plan to import satellites receivers to the Hermit Kingdom.

The three-person team wants to bring satellite receivers capable of receiving TV stations from SkyLife, one of South Korea's main broadcasters.

Ars Technica talked to Matthew Lee, one of the team members, who used a pseudonym.

"Right now North Korea is a hermit state. If we can at least get to a state where you can use Twitter, then people will understand what's going on outside. That's the first catalyst and then they can use our device to create a shadow network and with that, they can bring about a change within their own social context," he said.

Three North Korean defectors judged the contest. Of course, the idea sounds good in theory, but this is just a concept, and one with some huge hurdles. The team still haven't ironed out extremely important details like how to sneak satellite receivers over the DMZ, although they have an idea of how to do it: using new Lunenburg lens design research that would allow for satellite receivers to be manufactured in a flat shape. A flat satellite receiver would have a much easier time going across the border, and could be mounted inconspicuously.

The bigger problem? This kind of flat antenna technology isn't available yet. And when flat receivers are ready, getting them over the border will be a major obstacle as well. We know North Korea has drones, so their surveillance capabilities may make it hard to smuggle them in.

There's a glimmer of hope, though. A group called Fighters For a Free North Korea uses balloons to air-drop DVDs, transistor radios, USB sticks, and other communication tools—and its leader, defector Park Sang Hak, was one of the judges of this contest. Clearly there's room for some collaboration when the time comes. [Ars Technica]