Thousands upon thousands of people are forced to evacuate their homes each year due to the impact of hurricanes and tropical storms in local communities. Families and homeowners are left with no choice but to collect their valuables and relocate for the weather event. When evacuating, homeowners are completely in the dark as to what is going on at their home until they return after the storm - finding anything from a power outage to complete destruction.

What it does

Our team has developed a full platform and robust offering for keeping tabs on your home before, during, and after a storm. The HurriHome sensor module sits quietly in a power outlet of your home, reporting out information about the homeowner's environment. The cloud-based event platform stores the information reported by the phone, and communicate with the HurriHome mobile app to keep the user up to date. The information obtained from all users of the HurriHome platform will be presented on a cloud-based management dashboard for parties like law enforcement and relief groups to evaluate the impact of a hurricane.

The process

This is the first time we've ever tried to really plan out the user interface and user experience of an application. We created some on-paper wireframes of our vision based on the goals we identified for a user, and how they might want to use the app.

Our paper wireframes for the HurriHome app

After creating wireframes, we validated them against other event attendees and re-created our layout for building the mobile application in Adobe XD. We wished that we could develop all of the screens in our prototype, but only focused on the business-critical functionalities for the hackathon period.

Our software-created UI prototype

The technology

Our submission has four main components:

  • The HurriHome module: An Arduino-based web-enabled device that streams sensor information to the cloud server

The HurriHome module, outside and inside

  • The HurriHome mobile app: An Ionic 3 progressive web application designed to be accessed as needed by the user. It accesses the cloud server's API, as well as scrapes information from the NOAA National Hurricane Center website. > Note: As an Ionic 3 progressive web application, the Javascript source is optimized and minified for maximum efficiency in load time.
  • The HurriHome cloud server: A Heroku-deployed Python platform that uses Firebase to store, manage, and respond to application data
  • The HurriHome monitoring dashboard: A Wix-code based interface that loops in the Google Maps API interface

Challenges we ran into

We had some trouble coming up with the most effective way of determining the well-being of a user's home, and how to present this information to the user in a way that will be meaningful to them. We were struggling to understand the complex requirements of the problem: What do we do if there is no backup power available? What if both cellular and wired internet becomes unavailable? How expensive does this become for the user? We typically met these questions with an answer of compromise - in a 36 hour development time, it is hard to justify investing deeply in these edge case scenarios.

An additional challenge that came as a result of this was determining the proper hardware for accessing information about the user's environment. We only had a small set of sensors and inputs to choose from at the event, and had to think fast in order to select the based data for analysis and decision making.

With more time...

We would have loved to have seen more 'WebMD' style results made available to the user, so that the 'symptoms' of their home can help them to evaluate what support they need before they even get there. A damage roof or flooded building could be diagnosed remotely, allowing the user to begin the process of making repairs on the way back from evacuations.

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