an informal messaging system for disaster areas
collaborators: Laura Boffi, Li Bian
Device equipped messenger dogs record and deliver video messages between survivors in the city and refugee camps.
Right after a disaster, like an earthquake, family members and loved ones can become displaced in the city and in different refugee camps. Collapsed roads and damaged networks may prevent them from reconnecting physically or even making a phone call. In those very first hours of fear and confusion, people may just want to send a message to their loved ones to say they are alive and safe, hoping the same for them as well.
Messenger Dogs can help by recording messages as videos and delivering them to the refugee camp they are assigned to. Messenger Dogs are identified by their particular uniform that is equipped with a device to can record video messages, with a large keypad interface designed to be easily visible. Messenger Dogs are trained to sit when they meet a person, allowing the accelerometer inside the recording device to trigger the software interface to start. The geolocation and time of where each message has been taken is automatically logged, to aid in sorting and retrieving the messages later.
The Messenger Dogs are divided into teams assigned to different refugee camps. At the end of a work day, they come back to the camps, where volunteers will download the videos and make them available for people to browse and watch. This way, people can get to know if a family member is fine before formal communication is restored.
In developing this project, we used the iphone as a prototyping platform, together with Dashcode and NADAmobile from TellArt. This allowed us to try and test our design fairly quickly. (The project deadline was very fast; we went from concept to prototype in one week!)
We sought to tackle two challenges: enabling access to communication, and creating a friendly and understandable interface for people who do not use smart phones on an everyday basis. We also wanted to push conceptions of how mobile devices can be used. In our idea of Messenger Dogs, we felt that people's natural relation with dogs would help to mediate their interaction with the technology. The large buttons on the dog's jacket are an extension of the interface for the phone because the small buttons on the touchscreen can be difficult to operate, especially for people who might be injured in addition to being first time users of the device.