Natural disasters always bring about tragedy, but they have also inspired some young people to create software to help people better deal with such incidents.
The NewKrean team, comprised of third-year students from Chulalongkorn University, was the winner at Imagine Cup Thailand 2011 and will represent Thailand at the world finals in New York, US.
A smartphone application called Terra, developed by third-year students from Chulalongkorn University, allows disaster victims to alert others to their exact location.
And it seems to have come at the right time, with the world facing widespread devastation in the past few months.
Terra (which means "earth" in Latin) not only works as an alert system, but it can identify the definite area where the victims are through the use of social networks such as Facebook.
The beauty of this software is its one-click feature. When the user presses an emergency button, the program will send their location to all their friends on Facebook .
"We have hundreds of friends on Facebook and in our social network circle, so why don't we let those friends become more helpful to society," said Kriangkrai Pipatvilaikul, a member of NewKrean, the team that recently won the Imagine Cup Thailand 2011 contest.
Through the Terra online program, users can monitor the disaster situation closely.
The other three team members are Wannapon Suraworachet, Tanon Sirawan and Jirapat Yaovatsakul. Their inspiration for developing the program was the recent flooding in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The team explained that many countries are already prepared with emergency supplies stored in the event of a natural disaster, but the problem they usually face is exactly where to deliver the aid to enable efficient distribution to victims.
"It comes from our real experience," Kriangkrai said. "When we went to help the flood victims in Nakhon Ratchasima recently, we could only go to the areas the local officials guided us to."
Kriangkrai said they later discovered that many victims did not receive any aid but others had repeated deliveries, because the rescue teams did not have accurate information about victims' whereabouts.
They determined that the problem could be solved by having an effective simulated terrain of the area affected by the natural disaster.
Terra can give an overview of the current problem and provide long-term predictions of how a natural disaster might spread, thus allowing rescue teams to know where to send relief.
The phone displays the location of a disaster as well as friends or volunteers nearby who can help.
So far, the fastest way to disseminate news is by Twitter, but the Terra software can do better _ by notifying people immediately when the incident happens and tell rescuers the exact location of the victims. The program can also indicate which volunteers are closest.
According to the development team, the simulated terrain information could be instantly sent from local officials to the central government for rapid assessment and quick response in decision-making.
The terrain simulation would also provide a prediction to the central government about the long-term effects of the disaster, allowing officials to plan ahead dynamically to prevent serious repercussions. It could also help the government and foreign organisations plan where to distribute aid.
The developer team admitted that the program is currently restricted to smartphones because it requires a GPS to locate the victims.
The price of smartphones is high compared to other mobile phones, and there are fewer of them in use, so the team is now trialling a feature that will work with SMS, which is enabled on all mobiles.
In July, the NewKrean team will represent Thailand at the international stage of the Imagine Cup 2011 competition, to be held in New York.
The global theme is "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today".
Thailand is the only country to have twice won the global competition and the only country in Southeast Asia to have won.
Microsoft (Thailand) managing director Patama Chantaruck said that such programs as Terra show that software is a device enabler. This does not only encourage the software industry, but the computer industry as a whole.
Patama said there was a real need for creative and capable minds to help solve the issues facing the world today, especially with recent natural disasters such as the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand and quake and tsunami in Japan.
"We believe that the Imagine Cup competition is not only a means of helping individuals, but also a way to enhance the overall economy and stability of the world as a whole by encouraging those who can produce effective work in innovative ways," Patama said.
About the author
- Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Life Writer