Friday, January 7, 2011

Looking Back...BP Oil Spill and Mobile Devices

The BP Oil Spill is a disaster of epic proportions. Responding to the disaster has required innovative minds to use all available technology to craft quick and effective solutions. It's interesting to note some of the solutions that have been crafted using mobile technology.

Oil Spill Crisis Map

The Oil Spill Crisis Map was created using the Ushahidi, a free open-source software created specifically to enable people with cell phones to contribute during a crisis. Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout in 2008. Students at Tulane University in conjunction with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade have used Ushahidi to give the citizens of the Gulf Coast a voice to give testimony on the how the Gulf oil spill is impacting their lives and environment.

Reports can be made in four ways:
1. Send a text message or call (504) 27 27 OIL (7645),
2. Send an email to
3. Via Twitter with the hashtag #BPspillmap
4. Filling out this form ( )

iPhone Applications

These applications were built taking advantage of the iPhone SDK features enabling the creation of forms, back end web data storage, GPS and RSS feeds. As I write this there are over 20 apps in the app store about the oil spill. There are apps in several categories, heres a sample:

News - keeping users up to date on all the news available across the many internet resources including community sites like Twitter and RSS Feeds
Utilities - enabling users to report location, size and severity of oil contamination
Travel - tracking all world oil spills so you know if there is oil where you plan to vacation
Games - of course there are games like "Fight the Pipe" where you compete with others around the globe to plug the hole with your finger for the highest score.

QR Codes

QR Codes or Quick Response Codes are 2d bar codes designed to be decoded at high speed. A QR Code can handle many times the amount of information of a conventional bar code, 7,089 characters can be encoded in one symbol containing, URL's, web service calls with parameters, text etc.

QR Codes are most commonly used in "mobile tagging" sometimes referred to as physical world connections or "object hyperlinking", basically connecting the internet and it's resources to the physical world.
QR Codes, popular in Asia, have are becoming more popular here and have made their way into Sports Illustrated magazines, Pepsi Bottles and Times Square to name a few.

ScanLife the world wide leader in barcode scanning applications, has partnered with the celebrity backed "Be The One" campaign to get signatures for their petition, which states: “I demand that a plan to restore America’s Gulf be fully funded and implemented for me and future generations." Using QR Codes, the campaign enables mobile users to scan the code which automatically takes the users to where they can watch the Be the One video and sign the petition. The "Be The One" QR Codes have shown up in Times Square and availble on T-Shirts.

Text Messaging

Several organizations have launched campaigns to make it easy for mobile users to donate money to aid in the cleanup of the Gulf.
Examples include Mad Mobile, a mobile marketing company, has launched the “Oil Spill Relief” campaign, users can text the keyword GULF to the short code 50555 to donate $10 and the National Wildlife Federation has established a "Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund" which users can donate $10 to by texting "WILDLIFE" to 20222.

Text messaging is also used to sign up for alerts from the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command

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