The migrant crisis is a worldwide issue and is especially more pressing in the Greek coasts. Every day, there are hundreds of shipwrecked boats filled with refugees that wash up on the shore - dramatic scenarios. While discussing with reporters covering the story in Lesbos, I asked what could the tech community be doing? Their answer was that the camp organizers over there are overwhelmed: "There are so many boats that we can’t keep track of which ones need help. We would need a way to get alerts for passengers that are in distress."
They assured me that due to the small strip of sea separating Turkey and Lesbos migrants travelling have access to cellular network and often a smartphone along the journey and roam all the way through.
So came the idea for Lighthouse!
What it does
Lighthouse is a combination of a mobile app for migrants navigating and a cloud dashboard for the rescue teams on shore.
When a boat is in distress, anyone with the application downloaded on their phone can launch it a press an alert button that will send their coordinates to the closest shore station.
This station has access to a Lighthouse dashboard that monitors alerts in the filtered area. When rescue teams receive that alert, they can choose to acknowledge it - which will send a message to the migrant's mobile phone letting them know someone's coming (so they don't lose hope).
How I built it
The mobile app is developed with Ionic and AngularJS to provide a universal app for iOS, Android, Windows phone, and web access.
The dashboard is an AngularJS application that uses the Google Maps API to place the alerts on the map along with a filter zone (to avoid spamming)
All the alerts and rescue messages are sent and received using Firebase to provide a real-time communication system.
Built with lots of love
Challenges I ran into
Though the original idea was fairly simple to execute, getting more and more features for ideas made the development process more complex than expected. I had never used Ionic or Firebase before (though I had some previous knowledge of AngularJS), fortunately the documentation was perfect!
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
This is the first time that I build an end-to-end realtime communication system from an app to a dashboard and also the first time I've worked with some of the technologies. I am very proud that I've been able to build a working prototype for a cause that I care about - which could have massive impact on the conditions of the migrants through their tough journey.
What I learned
Other than the actual technologies that I've played with, I learned that you don't need to be a top notch programmer to make an impact on the world. All you need is some creativity and be determined to fix things.
What's next for Lighthouse App
Lighthouse is bound to evolve and get other features that will make its use truly impactful. Here are some of them:
Allow rescue teams to chat through to the migrant's app when acknowledging an alert. This way they can relay some important safety and first aid instructions.
Integrate an SMS mechanism to send the coordinates this way instead of IP to alleviate the roaming charges.
Integrate Natural Language Processing and recording to detect distinct words and send back pertinent instructions to the app.
Investigating the integration with Firechat which will allow for a decentralized way of conveying these alerts in the case that migrant does not have cellular network.
Implementation and testing: now it's time to travel over there and implement and test the solution
Lighthouse will become part of a bigger project called "Coders On The Road" - codersontheroad.org which is our team of hackers travelling around the world and building tech solutions for people in need.
We heard that 500Startups was looking for ideas that would alleviate the migrant crisis and hope to be considered for helping out in this mission!