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For the 2018 Call for Code challenge, team Dashing Communicators linked old tech to new when natural disaster strikes.


The best innovation comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. So said Isaac Newton many millennia ago. So it is for Call for Code team Dashing Communicators who realized the power of tying the cloud to one of the oldest communications vehicles: ham radio.

“During the Northern California wildfires, we noticed that when power and cell service died, amateur radio enthusiasts and survivalists still maintained communication using ham radio,” said team member Nancy Holme.

This set the team off exploring the potential of this pivotal tech that has been around so long. They also found that rather than just carrying voice signals (the primary medium since the end of the nineteenth century), ham radio can be used to transmit data.

For those on the ground during a natural disaster, whether a civilian or a first responder, the Dashing Communicators have developed a kiosk that connects the palm-sized Raspberry Pi with a screen and keyboard to a ham radio using the Watson IoT Platform. Critical information, like people recording themselves safe and their need for supplies, can be sent over the ham radio signal.

At a hub station, a ham radio connected to a computer collects that data and transmits it to the cloud, so all information can be stored and visualized on a dashboard. Adding in other information such as the movement of supplies can help first responders have a deep understanding of the situation in real-time even in areas where there is no connectivity.

This is just the beginning, Holme pointed out.

“We’re excited about the potential of weather data accessed using the Weather Company APIs,” she said. “What if we could predict important weather events like impending rain storms that could have a significant impact on first responder plans? This information could really make a difference.”

In addition to Holme, who focused on project management and testing, the IBM-based team included Steven Loomis (Node.js/API Backend); Robert Lu (Java, JS, Python, FE, Android, and Cloud services); Benz Kawinfruang (Telecom/Networking, Kernel/Application, C/C++ and Data scientist) and Jit Sarkar (Data Visualization/React Frontend).

In collaboration with the David Clark Cause, IBM in May 2018 launched the Call for Code, a worldwide, multi-year initiative that inspires developers to solve pressing global problems with sustainable software solutions.

The 2018 Call for Code Global Challenge ended in September. The winning team, Project Owl, was announced at the Call for Code Award Celebration on October 29. This IoT and software solution keeps first responders and victims connected in a natural disaster. The Project Owl team was awarded the USD$200,000 grand prize and the opportunity to deploy the solution through the IBM Corporate Service Corps, among other benefits.

IBM also hosted an internal 2018 Call for Code challenge. The winning IBM team was Team Frida, an end-to-end solution that predicts the magnitude of earthquakes based on sensor data and identifies the best escape routes and detects people trapped in damaged classrooms.

The topic of the 2019 challenge will be announced early next year.