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Since the Kalgidhar Trust operates as a self-sustaining organization, staffed with a slew of dedicated volunteers rather than paid management, and only a 2.75 percent annual expenditure on overhead, cloud technology was crucial in creating a sustainable management system that was accessible to all of its schools and academic institutions.74 72 Sarah Murray, “Disaster Relief: Technology Can Help Get Aid Where it is Needed,” Financial Times, 13 October 2011, http://www.ft.com/ intl/cms/s/0/c5d3462a-ef38-11e0-918b-00144feab49a.html 73 Interview with James Rooney, program manager for Microsoft Citizenship’s Technology for Good.
74 Harjit Singh Lamba and Gurdev Singh, “Cloud Computing-Future Framework for E-management of NGOs,” International Journal of Advancements in Technology, (July 2011): Vol. 2, No. 3.
Substituting Destroyed Networks The Vodafone portable network allows relatives to communicate with each other and enables aid agencies to carry out lifesaving emergency work. When Typhoon Pablo hit the Philippines in December 2012, it wreaked havoc on the mobile tower lines, disrupting all the mobile networks in Eastern Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines.
Mobile operators determined it would take several weeks before the network would be restored.75 Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), partnering with Vodafone Foundation, used a 100-kilogram portable network — transported via three suitcases — which created a 1-kilometer-radius network and was operational within 40 minutes. It was the first time a portable network had been used in a disaster situation.76 For the 17-day deployment, citizens and emergency responders sent a total of over 290,000 calls and over 570,000 SMS messages over the Instant Network. TSF also worked with the Red Cross to set up free call centers through satellite phones for those unable to utilize the portable network.77 The network allowed displaced families to reconnect with each other, make mobile payments and receive money while enabling relief workers to respond more efficiently to needs of those affected.
In February 2012, when severe droughts hit Kaikor in Northern Kenya, the portable networks were used to assist in aid delivery. TSF also partnered with the Red Cross to use the Vodafone Instant Network to provide telecommunication networks to a community of 15,000. They had previously lived without power, running water or reliable communications yet needed food delivery, medical, educational support, and sanitation.
Over the 47 days of aid relief, over 260,000 calls were made through the Instant Network.78 During the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Microsoft’s Twisted Pair Wave software also allowed humanitarian professionals to communicate in any location and on any device by connecting them across a broad range of networks and devices. For example, relief workers could locate and speak to other teams or organizations from around the world, regardless of whether they were using mobile phones, radio systems, or laptops.79 75 Interview with Laure Crampé, Communications and International Relations for TSF 76 Matt Warman, “Mobile in a Suitcase helps Typhoon Pablo refugees,” Telegraph, 14 December 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ technology/mobile-phones/9743488/Mobile-network-in-a-suitcase-helps-Typhoon-Pablo-refugees.html 77 Interview with Laure Crampé.
78 Matt Warman, ““Mobile in a Suitcase helps Typhoon Pablo refugees.” 79 Sarah Murray, “Disaster Relief: Technology Can Help Get Aid Where it is Needed.” Technology for good Portable networks | 33 Leapfrogging Infrastructural Deficits In Zambia, networks are built along main highways or urban areas, leaving around 65 percent of its 13 million inhabitants uncovered or at best, with an unreliable connection.80 A small 4-kilogram network device known as CompactRAN was created by Vanu, a technology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It can connect up to 1,000 people through two GSM carriers using only 50 watts of power, allowing it to run on solar energy or battery power. It requires, however, a backhaul device that can connect CompactRAN to the main network. This particular device is designed to connect to a variety of devices that can serve as a backhaul: microwave, wireless broadband, cable modem, DSL, and satellite connections.81 Ushahidi, the Kenya-based charity that developed a crisis-mapping platform, has designed a portable network device that functions independently and from anywhere in the world.
They refer to this device as the BRCK and consider it a “backup generator for the Internet.” It is a traveling wireless router that can run on eight hours of battery in case of a blackout, supports up to 20 devices, and is powerful enough to cover multiple rooms. By inserting a SIM card, the BRCK can be turned into a 3G and 4G network and can create a hotspot for up to 20 devices. It also works by connecting to any detectable existing networks.82 Juliana Rotich, the Executive Director of Ushahidi explains that the next layer of BRCK will be expanding its capacity to become an “on ramp Internet of things,” where BRCK could “be deployed in rural Indonesia but could be fully managed at an office in Paris or vice versa.”83 Unlike the Vodafone portable networks, BRCK works on a smaller scale but is a device that would be able to extend the satellite reach provided by larger telecommunication companies. “Our device is like the last mile extension of the Internet connection,” said Rotich.
As for the future users of BRCK, Rotich explains that most of the interest so far has been from aid and development workers but that there remains “a lot of potential for small and medium businesses to continue doing their businesses.” 80 David Talbot, “A Tiny Cell-Phone Transmitter Takes Root in Rural Africa,” MIT Technology Review, 29 May 2013, http://www.
technologyreview.com/news/515346/a-tiny-cell-phone-transmitter-takes-root-in-rural-africa/ 81 Vanu, http://www.vanu.com/solutions/rural/ 82 BRCK, http://brck.com/ 83 Interview with Juliana Rotich, Executive Director of Ushahidi.
Leapfrogging Infrastructural Deficits According to Matternet, 1 billion people live cut off from access to major infrastructure like road networks, particularly during rain or storm seasons when floods turn roads into lakes or rivers. It still takes trains and trucks to bring goods to remote villages that don’t have roads. It took centuries for our roads to be built. This means, according to Matternet, that one-seventh of the world population is literally centuries behind in developing modern infrastructure.84 When a drone or unmanned aircraft is used in aid delivery, it can reach targeted areas efficiently and quickly, acting as the FedEx for the developing world, where roads are often flooded, destroyed, or simply nonexistent. The Matternet device, a fusion between a drone and a GPS, would be able to drop off much-needed medicine from a hospital or aid agency to a local clinic or home, all within a matter of minutes, not hours or months.
The concept for the Matternet arose out of a Google Solve for X challenge held at Singularity University. A diverse group of entrepreneurs, engineers, and hackers identified a major issue in transporting goods in developing countries, noting that in some areas, it could take up to a month for an HIV blood test to get to a lab and back.
Matternet team member Arturo Pelayo envisions Matternet as more of a business than a charity, charging organizations for “point-to-point” delivery services. He notes that the system would be aimed at the developing world and might end up being cheaper than motorcycles, which some transport companies currently use.85 Citizen Mapping Drone technology is also playing an incredibly important role in environmental research.
While GIS and traditional methods of mapping often use high-tech equipment like satellites and airplanes, balloon mapping allows citizens to create “grassroots” maps that can even challenge the maps they feel were created unfairly by governments, businesses, and others in positions of power.86 In some cases, balloon mapping provides better images. The Red Cross prefers using balloon mapping on uneven terrain because airplanes, which incur more movement than balloons, may render distorted photos. When the terrain is sloped, airplanes often move too quickly and miss details that a balloon, with its slower range of motion, would not.87 84 Ariel Schwartz, “The Matternet: A Flying Autonomous Delivery System for the Developing World,” 30 August 2011, http://www.
fastcompany.com/1776951/matternet-flying-autonomous-delivery-system-developing-world 85 Ibid.
86 Public Laboratory, “Balloon and Kite Mapping,” http://publiclaboratory.org/tool/balloon-mapping 87 Interview with Achala Navaratne.
Technology for good Drone technology | 35 In 2010, when little public information was available on the extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) decided to find out themselves. Armed with helium balloons and kites, Gulf Coast residents took high-resolution photos of the region and assembled over 45 maps of the spill, which were ultimately added to Google Maps and also used by The New York Times.
The Public Lab is an organization that provides affordable do-it-yourself technologies for what it calls “environmental exploration and investigation.” A balloon mapping kit, for example, only costs US$95.
In partnership with a local advocacy group in Brooklyn, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Public Lab also created a map of the Gowanus Canal in an effort to move cleanup plans after the canal was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. Every year, 300 million gallons of untreated sewage is released into the canal, which also suffers from decades of coal tar accumulation in its sediment. The map of the canal was likewise adopted by Google Earth. Shannon Dosemagen, the co-founder of Public Lab, explained its significance: “That a group of local activists could create a high-resolution map of an area they care about — and that such imagery could replace commercial and government data as a recognized representation of that place — is a powerful example of the civic science mission of Public Laboratory.”88
Photos courtesy of Public Laboratory:
Public Laboratory Image of Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA (July 2011), in Google Earth 88 Shannon Dosemagon, “Public Lab’s Community-Created Maps Land on Google Earth,” PBS, 19 April 2012, http://www.pbs.org/ idealab/2012/04/public-labs-community-created-maps-land-on-google-earth109.html
Balloon mapping captures aerial imagery of spill-affected sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida Source: http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2012/04/balloon-and-kite-imagery-in-google.html Technology for good Drone technology | 37
CONCLUSIONTechnology is increasingly used in the developing world to improve livelihood, from boosting productivity in agriculture, to creating greater access to education, to delivery of needed aid and supplies. It has resolved long-standing issues like tracking the displaced, accessing areas of high conflict, organizing vast amounts of data, and responding to disasters in real time. The increasing affordability of certain technologies allows average citizens to take development into their own hands, whether it’s using a mobile phone to study for a college entrance exam, paying bills when a bank is unavailable, or even fighting corruption. Finally, technology connects people in remote areas and allows them to benefit from information sharing.
Technology still remains a tool, however, with its effectiveness dependent on political will and context, clear communication of needs, and, simply, the right intentions. The increased use of technology in development work also requires that charities collaborate increasingly with industries they traditionally do not interact with, such as engineering, technology, and business. These cross-sector alliances will help advance the goals that an individual sector might not be able to independently pursue.
As with all tools, however, technology must be sustainable. This requires that it continue to be affordable and simple to use. It must also be able to operate without many infrastructural constraints such as access to the Internet, computers, roads, and even electricity. The various technologies covered in this report often do not work in isolation but in tandem with each other — radio with mobile or social media platforms with mapping. Coupled with innovation and creativity, technology will only continue to bridge gaps between the developing and developed worlds as well as create new possibilities for development professionals to make far-reaching impacts.
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