Technology Input for Permaculture Aid Workers.

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by dylanz, Jul 10, 2012.

  1. dylanz

    dylanz Junior Member

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    Hello! (tl;dr at the bottom)

    I haven't posted on these forums for a long time, but have an interesting opportunity and wanted to gather input from a community of people I care a lot about. Some quick background about me... I'm a past PDC graduate (Bill's course in Melbourne), a graduate of the first PAW course (w/ Geoff and Rosemary)... and, a huge nerd.

    We are a funded startup of 4 people, who specialize in web and mobile technology. Our funder and partner is a veteran in the GIS field, and sold a large field work based Hardware/Software company to GE.

    In the next couple weeks, we'll be talking to large international aid organizations, ngo's, etc... about their technology needs, specifically around: Mapping and Data Gathering (think gathering data on the field via a tablet with no internet connection).

    Any input anybody has about ideas and ways we could benefit the PAW community, aid workers in general, and permaculturists in general... I'm all ears. Some random thoughts we've had are:

    1. Audio-to-Text input for international field workers.
    2. GIS mapping of permaculture/aid sites (think ESRI, or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4217329)
    3. Inventory management for large Permaculture/Aid projects.

    We've ruled out a lot of things already due to the fact that a pencil and paper can be more effective in a lot of cases. That said, there are still a lot of places technology can help, and that's where I have the opportunity to help at the moment (give me a handful of years and I'll see you all on the field).

    TL;DR: We have a ton of money (and time) to invest into software (think realtime web/android/iphone/ipad) that can potentially help permalculturists and aid organizations, and I'm reaching out to anyone listening who may have some good/bad ideas.

    If you have any questions/comments, I'm all ears!

    Thanks!
     
  2. adiantum

    adiantum Junior Member

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    Thinking especially for Third World and remote operations------whatever technology you promulgate, I would be sure it has a flexible, redundant charging system so that it can be kept running any number of ways. AC/DC plugs, battery, solar, hand-crank at least. Make the solar and the hand crank able to bypass the battery and run the thing directly in case the battery is dead or missing. And try to make the gizmos weatherproof....at least against humidity and dust. Small insects love to crawl into small orifices....maybe these should have little rubber plugs, attached to the frame of course) to keep them closed when not in use. Ideally the device would have a detachable, redundant memory device, like a flash drive, that could be detached and kept apart from the main device as a backup.
     
  3. Lesley W

    Lesley W Junior Member

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    Hi Dylanz,
    I always enjoy conceiving new ideas so whether they are good or bad I'm not sure, but for what they are worth, here they are. Thanks for asking :)

    It would be wonderful to turn this into a combination of stages from start up to more mature systems.

    1. Check lists for the observational stage of the process to ensure that the group starting has accounted for all the key variables. With supporting education for data gathering (how to take ph readings or judge it, worm quantity, rainfall, wind) They can transfer these easily to paper and pen or print them out if they have access to printers.
    2. Site selection: Combining with the nearest weather/data centre information to get a greater sense of the topography and local conditions. https://bonzle.com/c/a is one example that I found very useful recently.
    3. Other than that as a beginner in this area I would (and I imagine that many of your clients would also) appreciate some kind of planting database that could be used and sorted in any order I wanted. Eg, nitrogen fixing plants, planting date, harvesting date, climate,
    4. Typical solutions to common problems: by area and/or climactic zone (arid/meditterranean/temperate/cold-temperate) whether landscape, pests or wildlife, including pictures of how tos and relevant diagrams; plant guilds that work
    5. Best practice designs:showing interellationships of elements and explanations of why they work.
    6. Common problems to avoid/Inspirational benchmarks of success: ideally told first hand as cautionary lessons with solutions, eg videos and podcasts and transcripts from those who have faced and succeeded against similar situations
    8. Lists of support and like-minded organisations in the area
    9. Data gathering. PH Readings, Worms quantity, Rainfall, Wind; audit of local cheap/free resources etc including how to gather notes
    10. Helpful additions in relation to the people aspect of things. How to manage conflict, assessing and working with the local culture to engender support
    11. Data gathering: self listing of planting times/dates/locations; observations of success; ability to insert details on harvest/yield; also freeform comments regarding notes for the following harvest, whether that variety is suitable or alternatives to be considered; charting over time
    12. Ideally the database/software would allow sorting by multiple variables: eg. Nitrogen fixing plants suited for X climate; or plants that attract predators to sort out X pest; or stage of set up; or budget considerations; what can I plant now that will be harvestable in X month in my area.

    Anyway, hope that is of some use. All the best.
    ~ Lesley
     
  4. Unmutual

    Unmutual Junior Member

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    Lesley sums up what I would personally like to see for my own needs. If the software can run on a handheld device, along with the option of installing the software on a real computer, then all the better(I prefer computers over books, and books over touchscreens).

    To (re)put all of that into my own words:

    1) Known guilds: input the plant, see what works well with it and why.
    2) Calculating sun angles for your location(via GPS or choose).
    3) Average rainfall and other climate/weather information for your location(via GPS or choose).
    4) If possible, a journey tracking software that gives you information on elevations for a rough survey of the land(probably only via GPS/GIS).
    5) If we're talking about a piece of hardware, have probes that take pH, soil moisture, light levels and other such helpful readings for surveying the land(even if it means having 2 pieces of hardware).
    6) Sortable plant database(I know, it would be huge) with information such as binomial name, common name(s) for region, typical mature size, light requirements, water requirements, function(s)(chicken forage, cow forage, pig forage, biomass/mulch, nutrient accumulator, culinary, windbreak, firebreak, poisonous, medicinal, insectary(and what species insect it attracts), etc.).
    7) Local pests and diseases, with best practices on dealing with them(fungal, insect, animal, viral, etc.)
    8) Note taking: can be random pieces of information, but to also allow the editing of the current database to suit local needs(or better yet, to create different instances of the database that you can edit while keeping the original database intact). Having a way for all the users to add information to the database(like a wiki) specific to their location might be helpful. Kind of like a "Read More" button that sends you elsewhere, so the original database remains intact unless many people can confirm a needed change to the original database. That's the thing about plants, it's so region specific.

    If I were to choose a single item from that list, it would have to be a detailed plant database. Hell, you could just put that on the internet and sell advertising to seed catalogs that sell the seed. Hmm. I think I just gave away a million dollar idea(I demand a cut)!
     
  5. dylanz

    dylanz Junior Member

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    Thanks for the input everybody!

    @adiantum: Great points. One of my partners who sold his company specialized in "toughbooks". Imagine a custom tablet (before tablets were big time) that was extremely durable (resistant to drops), in the hands of repair staff at utility companies. If a power line went down, they'd be able to map it, find it, repair it (and hopefully not drop it from up on the pole... but it did happen!), record it, etc. It was drop resistant, but most likely not weather or environment resistant... so dirt, moist conditions, etc... would probably cause it to break. I love the power ideas. Thanks for the input... very helpful.

    @lesley,@unmutual: Awesome ideas. I really like the idea of being able to plug in probes to input data into an application. For example, if I were to take samples from a specific polygon of land, the application may be able to see that there is a nitrogen depletion, and recommend species that may be suitable for that area (also taking into consideration climate, average rainfall, water content in the soil, etc.). You have my brain churning now! Great ideas =)

    For now, we've started working with non-profits and service agencies in our local city (homeless-ness shelters, family service agencies, alcohol abuse centers... etc) to help them streamline their intake and recording processes (man, they use really old school technology). We're going to offer the product really affordably as a Software-as-a-Service model, so small struggling agencies will be able to use our product for the price of a couple cups of coffee a month.

    What we're building could be used in aid working scenarios as well, and I'm going to touch base with organizations and aid workers to see how we can help. For example, being able to record who you've talked to in a village, who you've taught specific courses to, who has planted what, who has done field work, etc, etc.

    Now... back to development! Thanks again!!
     
  6. Farside

    Farside Junior Member

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    I was thinking of an augmented reality app that integrates the gps and camera so that when you point the camera at a scene, the app draws the shadows at different times of the day and year.
     
  7. adiantum

    adiantum Junior Member

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    @ Farside....have you ever seen a Solar Pathfinder? It's a handheld, passive optical device, that will give solar angles and shadows for any time of year with just one sighting from a given location, provided you know the latitude. It's used to site solar panels without living on the site for a whole year first.
     
  8. Farside

    Farside Junior Member

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    Yes, they're pretty handy if a little last century ;-)
     
  9. Farside

    Farside Junior Member

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    I'm actually trying to find something right now and it looks like I might have to do it myself...

    I'm looking at a block of land (roughly 30 acres) which is gently rolling. The best topo maps I can find don't show a lot because the contour line resolution isn't good enough.

    I'd like to walk the property, collect a bunch of points containing lat, long and elevation (from the barometer sensor) and from there generate my own high resolution contour map (let's say with 1 meter contours).

    Does anyone know of an app for doing this already? All I find are apps for displaying existing maps, annotating existing maps or plotting routes. This is different.

    A tool for generating high resolution topo maps of a site would be fantastic.
     

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