The Story Behind the CrisisCommunicator

As part of the commitment from winning the Young Innovator Fellowship, Linkesh is required to file regular updates with the ITU.  We also post these updates on our site.

In 2010, with a bachelor's degree under my belt, I went to Holy Mother Amma for her opinion on what next. I already had a large list of topics that I would like to study, revolving around the Earth, Ecology, and Renewable Energy, but wanted to consult with her as my family has been blessed to have her as an advisor for years.

Holy Mother Amma (aka Mata Amritanandamayi) is a world-renown saint. In addition to providing spiritual guidance to the many monks and nuns who have joined her organization, she also organizes countless charitable activities in India and around the world. The unique thing about Amma is that she is accessible to everyone; she personally meets every single person of the scores of thousands that attend her programs.

Before I could tell her anything, she asked me, “So, your bachelor's is finished! What next?” Then she talked about the topics I had selected, but added one more:

“Imagine a town that's just been hit by a disaster. There are no lights, no sound, no movement. You're in a helicopter looking down. You need to find a way to help those people.”

I have been involved personally in two large natural disasters. One was the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami which swept through my home in Kerala. The other was the 2010 cloudburst in Leh, Ladakh, where whole villages were washed away by a river of mud. My upbringing in Amma's community in Kerala has instilled in me a desire to be of service; thus these words of Amma stuck clearly in my mind.

Fast forward to January, 2012: my friend from bachelor's studies sent out an email saying that he'd ordered a RaspberryPi, the latest and greatest in hackable geek technology, and was looking for a good idea for a project. He and I were both insanely busy with our Masters, him studying Computer Science at SUNY Buffalo, and me an Erasmus Mundus student of the SELECT program (Environomical Pathways for Sustainable Energy Technology) in KTH, Stockholm. I had also just gotten my Amateur Radio license (SA0BWI), and was learning about emergency communication technology on the side.

That's when it hit me:

Prime need in disasters: to know what is going on.

And thus the CrisisCommunicator was born, a device creating a simple, low-cost, infinitely expandable Disaster Management Information Communication System.

After a few specification drafts in January, we collectively decided to keep it aside until the summer, when we would have time to work on it. Through a few late nights of searching, I had identified a plausible technology pathway, but still had lots to learn and lots to experiment before it could be done, and school work was pressing upon us all. I had come across the ITU Young Innovator challenge, and thought that it would be a great opportunity to pursue when the time came, but shelved everything until the end of the semester.

Come June, I dusted off my notes. The first thing I noticed was the deadline for the Young Innovator's challenge: July 1st!!! At the same time, I was starting a summer internship with Dr. Vandana Shiva, and traveling quite a bit. There was no time to loose.

Pulling on my contacts, I assembled a team of friends and worked out a quick business plan, submitting it just in time. It was a gamble; I actually targeted the Young Innovator Challenge just because it seemed to fit, and I wanted some experience in writing business plans.

By God's Grace, it paid off. More on that in another post!