Monday, November 16, 2009

Hackers create tools for disaster relief

Elinor Mills in C-Net News describes a great way to apply technology where it’s badly needed: Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo may be tough competitors when it comes to Internet software and services, but they are putting their differences aside to build a developer community to tackle bigger picture problems like saving lives in emergencies.

The companies have joined with NASA, the World Bank, and PR agency SecondMuse to organize the first-ever Random Hacks of Kindness event, which was held at a warehouse space-cum community center called Hacker Dojo this weekend. For two days, coders worked on ways to use technology to help solve real-world problems, such as how people can get information and find each other during disasters.

The event came about after representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo attended a Crisis Camp conference for emergency and disaster relief groups in Washington, D.C. in May. The technologists decided that they would join forces to create a community of developers to build tools to help emergency workers.

….Developers worked on a dozen or so tools that could help disaster and emergency workers in times of crisis. Several tools took advantage of social media sites, like Twitter, and SMS for information sharing. One project envisioned using laptops, routers, mobile devices, USB keys and Wi-Fi to create a mesh network for times when normal networks are down.

Several projects explored the use of maps, including one group that built a widget that allows a user to click on a point in a map to have the coordinates automatically inserted into a message that can then be posted to multiple social networks at once via the HelloTXT service.

The first-place prize went to a group primarily from NASA that worked on a mobile notification app that can be used when regular cellular networks are so bogged down people can't make phone calls. Using the "I'm OK" app, people can easily notify friends and family members that they are safe via SMS by clicking one button. The "I'm OK" message is then instantly distributed to everyone a user has designated on a pre-set contact list….

A badge for the 2005 hacker conference, Defcon 13, shot by Prosavage2600

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