Altruistic Applications for IoT Technology

In some ways, the internet of things represents the culmination of an original projection made by those responsible for creating the internet in the first place: These innovators envisioned that people, computers and other electronic devices would all be interlinked in a network of communication that served as the apotheosis of all others. That description, more or less, matches the IoT. In both the consumer and enterprise arenas, the common availability of smart building systems, industrial workflow management platforms, utility networks, various public sector oversight tools and so much more serves as proof positive that the internet’s full spectrum of possibilities has, by and large, been realized.

IoT systems have great potential to aid numerous charitable and humanitarian efforts.

The true potential of IoT technologies, however, has yet to reach its peak, with developers and engineers working tirelessly to expand the horizons of the systems. In recent years, they have been brought to bear in a wide variety of altruistic applications. As the examples below will reveal, the IoT has afforded humanitarian organizations and public sector agencies the opportunity to do a great deal more good than ever before for the causes and communities they serve. Application development platforms could be valuable solutions for charities and nonprofits seeking to create similar IoT tools.

British Red Cross pilots IoT buttons for tracking responder activity 

The U.K. chapter of the Red Cross carries enormous responsibility, providing humanitarian aid and public health support in various forms – particularly in the wake of natural disasters. Medical professionals and other full-time emergency services personnel can become overwhelmed in these situations if not for the backup they receive from the BRC and other organizations with similar aims. However, according to a Medium post by Simon B. Johnson, head of geographic information systems, information management and data visualization for the BRC, the agency’s existing data tools were not capable of completing certain processes at reasonable speeds. Collating data to provide a portrait of BRC activity across the U.K. at any given time was one of the most difficult tasks.

Johnson got the idea to try the IoT’s possibilities on for size earlier this year when a colleague asked him about ways in which the BRC could be more transparent about its activity and the services it provided. Starting with the IoT buttons offered by Amazon Web Services – handheld devices used in conjunction with the e-commerce and tech giant’s IoT app, to send a signal to a database – the BRC data scientist wrote some code that would cause the buttons’ individual IDs and a timestamp to be sent to a Google spreadsheet every time they were pressed. He then added more complex functionality to the devices, including latitude and longitude detection, and worked up a proof of concept visualization that displayed the buttons’ locations on a map of England.

The program is still ensconced in its pilot stages, with additional testing necessary to determine if the idea is feasible on a wide scale for use by the BRC’s emergency response units. But if it works out, it could end up providing valuable real-time tracking of disaster relief efforts and other emergency services.

IoT-based apps for food relief and refugee-aid efforts 

While the BRC program described above remains  in its prototype testing stages, there are various active initiatives that leverage the IoT to increase the reach and efficiency of humanitarian efforts all over the world. The hunger-focused nonprofit Sanku, also known as Project Healthy Children, uses devices called “dosifiers” to fortify flour with vitamins and minerals that those consuming it might not otherwise receive in their regular meals. According to ZDNet, the organization implemented IoT technologies to monitor the production of several mills in Africa in real time, which provides oversight in case of any technical issues and ensures the facilities are operating in a cost-efficient manner. It also helps reduce vehicle usage by Sanku personnel who would otherwise have to visit the mills in person if seeking to review their performance.

Along similar lines, the Refugee Aid app, first released by Trellyz in 2016, provides a variety of nonprofit and public sector agencies with a wide spectrum of information services. Network World reported that the platform collects information on the available aid in a given area, sends that data to charity workers and government employees, and allows all involved to communicate readily with one another so that material and human resources alike are used as efficaciously as possible. Real-time data updates also allow for the planning of more specific aid projects, such as management of a soup kitchen for refugees or the homeless. Groups that have used Refugee Aid include Caritas, the BRC and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Japan’s IoT-based public health initiatives 

The senior-citizen demographic in Japan constitutes a large portion of the population, not unlike what has happened with baby boomers in the U.S. According to a Forbes guest post by representatives of the Japanese government, this raises a particularly difficult matter in the field of public health: Seniors in Japan generally have difficulty keeping up with their health issues, and Type 2 diabetes has risen in prevalence over the course of the past 20 years, with senior citizens representing a large share of the newer patients. To deal with this quandary, government-sponsored developers devised an IoT-powered app called Shichifukujin – The Seven Deities of Good Luck – that not only helps medical professionals keep track of important health metrics but also offers an interactive element to keep seniors engaged. Specifically, different gods from Japanese mythology represent different aspects of nutrition that diabetics must monitor, including body weight, blood pressure, step counts and physical activity.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is also using the possibilities of the IoT to address other public health matters connected to aging. These solutions include biometric sensors weaved into clothing to keep track of health indicators like heart rate, temperature, humidity and related metrics. More critically, small tags embedded in the shoes of dementia or Alzheimer’s patients can help track the whereabouts of these individuals if they go missing, or even be placed within sheets to alert medical staff in nursing facilities of health problems.

Standing up for justice 

Finding ways to give a voice to those who have historically been voiceless or otherwise marginalized stands out among the most noble acts of altruism a humanitarian organization can perform. Social media has been a prominent tool for conveying messages of social change, so IoT’s role in such endeavors isn’t necessarily surprising. That said, the degree of success certain groups have achieved through the use of these tools is remarkable.

According to IoT For All, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Investigation Lab at the University of California Berkeley and other organizations with similar priorities are using IoT-enabled sensors and applications to catalog reports of human-rights abuses. The inherent capabilities of these smart systems allow nonprofit staffers to analyze information closely to ascertain which reports are legitimate at a more efficient pace than ever before, giving these organizations more time to spend on the responsibilities of activism. Examples like these prove that the ultimate frontiers of IoT haven’t been found, and that so much more is there to discover.

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