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A flood of ideas

Students have used the experience from last year's crisis to come up with award-winning applications

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Crisis can always be turned into opportunity. Saying this, Thailand has experienced no greater crisis in recent times than last year's flood. Grave as the damage was, it did inspire and motivate a group of second year students from King Mongkut University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) to develop Flood Finder, a mobile application that helps users report flood conditions and stay informed of water levels. 

The team, named Optimo, won the Students With Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest, organised by the United States Agency for International Development Regional Development Mission for Asia (USAID Asia). The contest focused on three development challenges in Southeast Asia _ human trafficking, disaster resilience and response, and deforestation and forest degradation.

The Flood Finder mobile app employs user-generated content to track flood conditions. Once users take a photo of the floods, the application helps them to calculate the water level and report to the system.

"The app helps users get real-time data of water levels by using a camera, GPS receiver and high-speed mobile internet attached with smartphones," explained Nattaphat Laoharawee, the leader of Optimo. The team has used street-side mailboxes to gauge water depth. Once a smartphone with the app installed captures an image of flooding at a mailbox, the app can calculate the water level.

"It's very convenient for users as they will no longer have difficulties in finding and sharing information about flooding in their areas. Flood Finder is not just an app, it is a tool to help save people's lives," said Nuntipat Narkthong, the team leader.

Flood Finder, the winning app, helps users to get real-time data of water levels.

The team pointed out that they could further improve the app to measure water depth based on cars. However, this would be more difficult as mailboxes are set at a standard height nationwide, while there are various types of cars.

Another team, Vana, comprising fourth year students from KMUTT, won the popular prize based on the number of "likes" the app preview videos generated on USAID Asia's Facebook page from when they were submitted in August until Nov 8. The team opted to tackle the topic of "Preventing Deforestation and Forest Degradation", reasoning that it is a main cause of increasing climate change and global warming.

The team ran a field survey and recorded the information on Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, making a map themselves to develop the A-Eye mobile app. Its main features are reporting irregular incidents, mapping, and providing information about the national park.

It helps prevent deforestation and protects the forest resources through cooperation from local citizens, park rangers and park visitors.

"For foreign tourists, the app will be a virtual assistant in travelling around the national park because we put the information in English so it's easier for the tourists," said a team member, adding that the app can run on any operating system.

Some of the finalists, such as the Thailand Prevention Disaster team from Srinakharinwirot University, which is comprised of Kanawat Chunchom and Jirayu Kanpariyasoontorn, invented the mobile app as a tool to help people cope with particular incidents more efficiently.

The duo was also inspired by last year's deluge to develop their application, which has four features: location information, real-time information, know-how and emergency numbers.

The application was created to let users take a photo, add phone numbers and text before posting it on the app for others to see. The programme stores the location of users and reveals situations in surrounding areas, displaying the scenarios based on distance.

"Our app is pretty different from Facebook or Twitter, as users need not be a member of the application, nor join the group, like or follow," Kanawat said.

Users can view the distance between themselves and where an incident takes place. The app shows a phone icon to call those who submitted the data, while the Google Map button helps them find a route to the incident. Once they press the button, the programme will connect to Safari and open Google Maps while simultaneously calculating the distance.

The real-time information, another feature of this app, offers news that the app retrieves from its website blog.thai-pd.com which fetches news feeds from sources such as Thairath, Dailynews and INN.

The e-book function includes tips for disaster preparation such as first aid or what to do when such incidents as flood, fire, storm, and earthquake happen. Users will also find it more convenient to contact someone in case of emergency as the app has all the emergency numbers in one place, each of which can be reached immediately on the keypad.

Disaster-related apps were not only about providing information. A team from Thammasat University developed a game application called Elmundo targeting kids aged from seven to 12 years.

The game educates and encourages children to learn about disasters, especially floods. Comprising three stages of incident, pre-flood, during the flood, and post-flood, the young players learn how to deal with the deluge through games. Once they pass each level there will be a pop-up card teaching them, for example, what should they do when they encounter a venomous animal.

Optimo, the winning team, received a cash award of 50,000 baht and tablet computers, and the winner of popular vote, Vana, received 10,000 baht. The contest was an opportunity to encourage youth to come up with innovative ways to address development challenges.

"We look forward to seeing what they will do next with their apps and ideas, and have already begun sharing this great model with other USAID missions," said USAID/Asia Mission Director Michael Yates.

Playing mobile games, kids can learn what to do before, during and after floods.

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