Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A few ideas

image Gbenga Sesan had this to say in reponse to one of my posts. ‘Dejo, I'll like to know what problems you refer to (in Part 2) when you say, "...by cloning an existing product you run the risk of solving a problem that doesn’t exist in your environment while ignoring rich opportunities that you could be addressing." I think that is the nexus of your brilliant series (which MUST be pushed to a wider audience, maybe through regular ICT reporting channels), and it'd be great to identify such problems and who knows, there may be people waiting to have a go at them. Thanks.’

I replied by promising that ‘I'll do a postscript next week listing at least 3 specific problem domains and speculating on possible solutions’ (What had I just let myself in for?).

Coming up with an idea is the easy part, building is the hard part. Still, the ideas we put out there may just inspire someone to grab on to one of them and make something worthwhile. Some of these ideas may be way out there in terms of craziness and seem like flights of fantasy, but with some of the new technology coming out everyday and becoming more and more affordable the wildest things can become simple to accomplish. Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality. Just yesterday Google announced App Inventor, a new development tool that will enable ordinary people with no programming skill whatsoever to build applications for their Android phones. One person built an app using App Inventor that could detect when he was driving (accessing the GPS on his phone) and would automatically respond to every text message with a response that he was driving and couldn’t respond. This is reminiscent of the website building tools that everyone and their dog used to build websites in the good old days and resulted in the extraordinary growth of the internet. It actually deserves a Digital Crossings post of its own. Which brings me to the first of my set of problems and possible solutions.

The Problem.

Nigeria is covered in bad roads. We are used to the situation, but they have resulted in far too many deaths. In my opinion, the worst roads are those that are smooth for good portions and then suddenly collapse into a porthole. Drivers lulled into a sense of security by the smooth portion come suddenly upon the bad portion and all sorts of accidents can occur. The obvious solution is for the people responsible to fix the roads. Thousands of dead Nigerians are evidence that they are not doing it.

A Solution.

Like so many things in our nation, the citizenry may need to take care of themselves. Movements like Light Up Nigeria and Enough Is Enough are applying pressure in various ways to get action from those with the responsibility on  a variety of things. However, if we can’t solve the fundamental road problem just yet we could develop an early warning system. With technologies increasingly available in more and more mobile phones a driver along the roads of a city like Lagos is constantly broadcasting location information. Some have accelerometers that can detect bumps or dips. Some have voice control. A mobile phone application can be built that uses the capabilities of different phones to record trouble spots. As a driver drives along and encounters these trouble spots the phone can detect when the car moves in an unusual way, or the driver using voice control tell the application that this is a bad spot. This information is then broadcast via one of several possible means to a database that collates multiple reports and plots them on a map. Multiple reports are what give a report validity.

The second piece of this application gives a driver an audible alarm when they approach such a bad point giving them enough forewarning to slow down. This may even be used to develop a system to prioritise what gets patched.

Final thoughts.

This is not a unique solution (a clone). I have heard of similar solutions elsewhere already and it is the kind of thing that can use crisis mapping technology (like the one that starts with “U”). Secondly, there is the problem of getting this on people’s phones – never mind the development challenges of building for phones with different capabilities. Ultimately, it relies on crowd-sourcing which requires skill to raise to a critical point before it becomes useful.

Told you some of these ideas could be way out there.