The Encounter Box is a peer-to-peer application using only a single network cable connected to two computers. In a hospital quarantine scenario, an Ebola patient and a priest will be able to talk to each other via a video chat to without the need for a protective gear for the latter, thereby reducing the risk of infection and increasing spiritual encounters on these kind of electronic interactions for Ebola patients. The same “box” will serve a greater purpose when used as a monitoring device by medical professionals and as a messaging tool by visiting relatives.
While current communication technology makes possible for two parties to communicate using apps like Skype on their smartphone with great ease, this is actually heavily dependent on the existence of expensive infrastructure and server technologies. In a developing country where connection to the Internet is still a luxury, a solution is needed to bridge the technology divide to be responsive to the immediate needs of people in places in emergency situations.
The St. Damien Encounter Box runs on the upcoming WebRTC standard being developed by a group composed of IT companies including Google and Microsoft. WebRTC, short for Web Real-Time Communication, is a standard being drafted to allow computer users to exchange video, audio, and data via popular web browsers with no need for expensive servers and plugin applications.
Fr. Romuald P. Zantua, the retired priest based in Phoenix, took this approach to a much simpler use that eliminates the need for the Internet. Each computer just needs to be plugged in with a cable and the two computers will be able to transmit audio and video communication by the people on both ends.
The current version of the tool looks like a very simplified Skype with all the fancy, non-esssential functionalities removed.