Storing Data, No Internet Required

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

Image of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut from across the water on a cloudy day
Rigolet, Nunatsiavut located in the southeast region of Labrador with a population of 300. Photo credit: Dr. Daniel Gillis, School of Computer Science

Computer science grad student Marshall Asch's research on data storage and mobile ad hoc networks has long-lasting implications.

Marshall Asch, Computer Science (M.Sc.)

From checking email, to loading grocery flyer deals, reviewing the weather, or getting health test results, the Internet is intrinsic to our day-to-day activities. Somewhat ruefully, many of us would probably admit that we need the Internet for daily life. But, what if we didn’t have reliable Internet? What if the nearest cellphone tower was 300 km away? That is the case for some remote Canadian communities, such as Rigolet, Nunatsiavut. This problem inspired Marshall Asch’s graduate student journey to collect and store network data—without the Internet.

Headshot of Marshall Asch"The eNuk project in Rigolet sparked my interest in this type of research back in 2018. My advisor, Prof. Dan Gillis, described the project—a community-led mobile app where members could report different environmental conditions, like ice safety or fishing quality, using mesh networks instead of relying on Internet access. I was struck by the issue of sharing and storing data without the need for Internet Service Providers."

Without reliable Internet access, cloud servers were not an option for data storage in Rigolet, and other existing methods also would not work because they require computers rather than cell phones. Driven by these challenges, Asch’s research focuses on impacts of social interactions on the optimization of data storage schemes in mobile ad hoc networks. After joining the eNuk project team, he co-led the development of the wireless mobile mesh-enabled Android version of the community-led eNuk health and environment monitoring tool.

“Marshall’s work was a huge contribution to community-based environment and health monitoring programs in remote and rural areas and has implications for data sharing and storage across Canada,” says Prof. Dan Gillis, School of Computer Science. “In the time that I have known him, Marshall has demonstrated himself to be a hard-working and innovative individual who improves the lives of his peers and supports communities that are too often marginalized. To say that Marshall has had a profound impact on the student body in the School of Computer Science would be an understatement.”

Asch has held executive positions in the Society of Computing and Information Science and the Guelph Coding Community. He helped grow the clubs to have larger impact for students, such as hosting Roboticon, hackathons, bringing speakers to campus and raising funds to send students to competitions.

Asch’s research on data storage and mobile ad hoc networks has long-lasting implications for communities across Canada. It will enable them to store, manage and access valuable data amongst each other. His efforts have been noticed by institutional and national bodies. In 2019 and 2020 alone, Asch has been awarded a Canada Graduate Scholarship (Master’s) from NSERC and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship. He has received support from Polar Knowledge Canada’s Northern Scientific Training Program, the Mitacs Accelerate Program, along with several notable U of G recognitions: the CEPS Dean’s Scholarship; Erin Angus Student Award; and CEPS Society of Excellence.

As he embarks on the latter half of his master’s degree, Asch will begin simulations to evaluate the use of human mobility in mesh networks to assess their usability for more effective network strategies. After graduation, Asch plans to seek a role in industry to develop software that makes use of mesh networks.

This article was originally published in the CEPS 2019–20 annual report: Big Picture.

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