Sending Out An SMS: Online System To Warn About Floods

By Ran Bushuhrian, for Maariv

From the first moment I heard about the WaterHackathon (an exclusive event at the Tel Aviv University that brought together dozens of engineers, program developers and other professional, who worked for three full days on solutions to problems in the water field) it was clear to me that I will take part in it.

The reason was obvious, this special event brings out the three biggest advantages of Israel: The trial and understanding of material, infrastructure, and water resources management – derived from years of water shortage; the successful hi-tech industry; and the creativity and achievement hidden deep inside the Israeli DNA.

As a member of the group that won the first place at the event and dealt with the development of a product designed to be used as a preliminary alert to floods, it was an amazing opportunity to take part in this important industry and help to reconstruct the StarTau success (the entrepreneurial center at the Tel Aviv University) that has taken the responsibility to organize the event and has done so successfully.

The group which I incorporated included Yigal Mushnik and Eden Cohen from Intel and Ran Biton from Aviv Engineering Management. We had a connection-at-first-sight, very spontaneous and flawless, and created a mosaic of an idea mosaic into one clear picture in less than 48 hours. We chose to deal with the challenges of floods which constitute the world’s deadliest natural disaster. If you are not convinced, just think of the tragic floods in Thailand these past weeks.

The idea which we developed and wanted to promote focused on the attempt to create an online system that can alert in “real time” about floods around the world using aggregations of reports being received on social networks in general and on Twitter specifically. Today there are already some GIS based hydrological models which can predict the behavior of the floods, but these systems are naturally based on weather forecasts and not on any “real time” information.

All along the activity we imagined a rural isolated village in a third world country. According to the scenario which we worked on, we assumed that the village has limited resources and our mission was to maximize the efficiency of cheap solutions in order to save lives. In other words, we understood that we have to do more with less and thus decided to leverage the available cellular infrastructure (it is important to point out that 75 percent of India’s population is connected to cellular networks) in order to alert in real time on the rise of water level, using text messages on one side and social network scans on the other.)

WaterHackathon is an international “marathon” of brainstorming and programming, where software developers and designers collaborate to create new tools for solving water problems facing developing countries, such as: access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, flooding and drought (i.e., climate change issues), irrigation and watershed management and environmental pollution.


Photo by ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd.

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