Solar Powered PirateBox




About: i'm losing my the kids with borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80's

A PirateBox is a DIY anonymous offline file-sharing and communications system built with free software and inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware. The box remains off the internet as a precaution to maintain full anonymity while letting you have fun, chat with people, and share any files you may like.

Adding solar cells allows you to go truly off-grid and power the PirateBox at any sunny location. Adding a LiPo battery and charge regulator lets your off-grid PirateBox stay on even when the sun isn't out.

To bake this specific setup you'll need the following ingredients:

  • TP-Link TL-MR3020 3G/4G Wireless Router (
  • USB Thumb Drive (
  • LiPo Rider Pro (
  • 3.7V LiPo Battery (
  • 5W USB Folding Solar Cell (

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Step 1: Download the PirateBox Software

The guys over at have made it really easy to setup a new PirateBox using their custom installer scripts.

Download the PirateBox Installer (

Download OpenWrt for the MR3020 (

Extract the file and copy the “install” folder to the USB drive.

Step 2: Install PirateBox Firmware on MR3020

SAFELY REMOVE the USB drive and plug it into the MR3020 router.

Set the toggle switch next to the LAN/WAN port to 3G mode.

Turn off WiFi on your computer.

Connect the MR3020 via ethernet cable to your computer and power up the router.

Wait for the MR3020 to boot then open a web browser to Log in using the default username & password (admin & admin).

Navigate to System Tools > Firmware Upgrade and select the OpenWRT firmware that you downloaded to your computer during the first step above.

Step 3: Wait

No, seriously...wait.

The MR3020 will reboot a few times during the installation.

Be patient and give it at least 45 minutes just to be sure everything has installed.

In the meantime do another fun Instructable!

Step 4: Connect to the OpenWRT Router Via Telnet

Open a terminal window and issue the following commands:



At the prompt type 1 and hit ENTER. Next, enter a password to be used for connecting to the PirateBox via SSH. The password will not display as you type. Hit ENTER and repeat your password. Hit ENTER again to save.

Type 2 and hit ENTER. Set the current date and time.

At the prompt type anything other than 1 or 2 and hit ENTER to exit the setup menu.

Step 5: Try Connecting to the PirateBox Via SSH

Power off the MR3020.

Disconnect the ethernet cable.

Power on the MR3020 and turn on your computer's WiFi.

Connect to the unsecured network "PirateBox: Share freely".

Open a new connection via SSH using the following command in the terminal window:

ssh root@

If prompted, type Yes to accept the authentication key.

Enter the password you saved in Step 4.

Step 6: Activate the Kareha Image and Discussion Board

Issue the following command in the terminal window:

vi /opt/piratebox/www/board/

Type "i" to begin editing the text.

Remove the leading "#" signs on the following lines:

Change ADMIN_PASS and ADMIN_SECRET to whatever login and password you want.

Hit ESC, then type ":x" and hit ENTER to save your changes and exit the vi editor.

Load the following URL in a web browser: http://piratebox.lan/board/

Step 7: Activate and Start the UPnP Media Server

Issue the following commands in the terminal window:

cp /opt/piratebox/src/openwrt.example.minidlna /mnt/ext/etc/config/minidlna


/etc/init.d/minidlna start


/etc/init.d/minidlna enable

Step 8: Change the PirateBox SSID

Issue the following command in the terminal window:

vi /etc/config/wireless

Type "i" to begin editing the text.

Edit the line "option ssid 'PirateBox - Share Freely'" to include a custom SSID within the apostrophes.

Hit ESC, then type ":x" and hit ENTER to save your changes and exit the vi editor.

Issue the following command in the terminal window:

/etc/init.d/network reload

Your PirateBox is ready! Wait for it to reboot then connect to the unsecured SSID you just named.

Open a browser and it should redirect to http://piratebox.lan

Step 9: Go Solar

Connect the LiPo battery to the battery connector on the LiPo Rider Pro.

Connect the 5W solar cell to the INPUT on the LiPo Rider Pro.

Connect the MR3020 to the OUTPUT on the LiPo Rider Pro.

Flip the switch on the LiPo Rider Pro to ON.

Wait for the MR3020 to boot and connect to the unsecured PirateBox SSID.

The LiPo Rider will power the MR3020 directly from the solar cell and use any excess power to charge the LiPo battery. If the solar cell isn't producing sufficient power, the LiPo Rider will draw from the battery to provide a steady 5V supply. If you find the PirateBox isn't surviving the night try increasing battery capacity.

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    17 Discussions


    4 years ago

    So... just to be sure I understand completely, this runs completely independent of any networks. For example, I could be in the middle of the ocean using this to chat with others or send data, etc?

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    it's a completely offline "internet" as in you have to connect to that hotspot to chat with others also connected with that hotspot. The biggest features comes in like a message board style communication so you can leave a message, and someone can respond, and you can go back and forth without ever being there at the same time. You can also drop files in the file server and whatever else. It's a completely isolated bubble of communication.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    What would be the easiest way to serve a website off a thumbdrive? -Rather than updating the router's firmware. For example, being at a tradeshow, and serving a simple html site. Is there a router than can do that right out of the box? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Not anything cost effective. There really is no reason not to do it through updating the router's firmware. The only routers that come with that functionality stock are much much more expensive than what you can get through the TPlinkone in this post.

    astral_magetropical tech

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 9

    try using a semi flexible solar panel from . and you can get your batteries from there as well.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Do people geocache for these yet?

    Are there any good repositories listing these in the wild? I'd like to deploy a couple and see what gets posted - it's got a bit of old BBS feel to it! Maybe I could dig up an old Turn Based Strategy door and adapt it to one of these for some nostalgic style anon gaming!

    Serious adventure fun!

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    haha, a bunch of people hanging out in a field with laptops...

    "What are you guys doing?"
    "Killing grues."

    If you're asking if you can use it to connect to the internet while out camping then the answer is: of course not, that's completely counter to what a PirateBox is. The PB is not connected to the internet in any way.


    4 years ago on Step 8

    do you have some screenshots of the sharing/web pages?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Nice little write up how to get a solar powered PirateBox :)
    Also the piratebox is a bit in the need of support for people to help out as well:,15052
    So if someone can contribute something, that would be very nice. Also remember all the little bits help as well :)