SMS frontend to connect people during blackouts
Tasks: Concept development, prototyping, pitch presentation
Here: Energyhack Reloaded 2015
My former fellow student Jakob Penca and I took part as a team at the hackathon "Energyhack Reloaded" together with Viktor Bedö and Ayşegül Dinççag. The main challenge was to develop solutions which can prepare or help people either before or during a major blackout.
Input presentations from energy experts and our research showed that when electricity is down there is a certain time frame in which the GSM cell towers still operate because of their backup batteries. We had different information on how long this would be: something between a few minutes and a few hours.
So our idea was to establish a technical basis which generally enables connecting people via SMS as long as there is GSM communication available. People inside the blackout can send SMS to the still working cell towers to a special number. The towers send the SMS to towers outside the blackout where there is working internet. As soon as the SMS reaches a server many useful things can be done with it: Its content can be analyzed and matched with other SMS, replies can be generated to connect people with matching needs, it can be broadcasted to websites or web services like Twitter and Facebook so that people from outside the blackout are also connected…
During the hackathon we realized our idea with fast prototyping an developing iterations as well as playful workshop situations which helped to emphasize people affected by a blackout and trying to connect.
In the end we presented a working prototype based on the Nexmo SMS service API used by Node.js code developed by Jakob Penca. Test persons were able to send SMS to our virtual number with content like "Need candles" or "Have candles". When there was a match in content the two matching persons received the cell phone numbers of one another via SMS. During a blackout they would be able to text or call the other one to meet and share their things. Of course the possibilities depend on how long GSM connection is available. But even if this is just a few minutes many things can be done to help people affected by this extreme situation. Our use case for the exchange of physical goods is just one of many.