Are you one of the many Basotho who live besides obscure “streets” anywhere in Lesotho? Do you worry that one day you may have a medical emergency in which your “would be” rescuers arrive too late? Don’t despair. Help is on the way! Gone will be the days of “Ke lula pela sefate (I leave near a tree)” as Setsoto Boleme, a Computer Science second year student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), has designed a cell-phone application (app) that can find you where you are quickly, in case you are in trouble and you need urgent help! Boleme fondly calls his newly developed software Mashapps. What has inspired this young man (who designed this app in his first year at the university) to conceive such a powerful program?
“It was a combination of my enthusiasm for computing and my experience as I grew up,” he said. “I loved computers. I developed a passion for these objects since when I was in primary school. So I had no problem choosing Computer Science as my program when I arrived at the NUL.” However, it is Boleme’s experience with electricity cuts back home that inspired him to develop Mashapps. “I grew up in a place where we experienced frequent power cuts. Interestingly, my family was always quick to notify Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) to come and help as frequently as we had the cuts. However, despite the LEC workers’ willingness to help, many times they never reached us. That is because we lived in a place that was hard to find. We used to spend a lot of airtime explaining the best way to reach our house and many times we failed. In that failure, I learned a lesson.” What lesson?
What if our country’s frustrating inability to develop a system of named streets is turned into an opportunity? Boleme thought. Lesotho is one amazing country where houses somehow spring almost randomly just about anywhere. Thus it is not uncommon in this country to listen to a cellphone conversation in which people spend much airtime simply trying to explain directions to one another, “Ke lula pela sefate.” As many (if not all) of us can attest to, explaining directions is a tricky experience in Lesotho. “The situation is worse when you are in an emergency and your life is in danger,” Boleme continued. “For instance, suppose you want to notify the police about an impending burglary in your home, the first obvious question will be, how can I notify them such that they will understand where I am and arrive quickly? This is where Mashapps comes in!”
“Suppose I want to call the Police,” Boleme said. “This app automatically takes the coordinates of where I am and communicates them to the police computer on the other side. I just have to click on the app on my cell to achieve this feat, nothing else! The police will not only see where I am at the moment of calling, the program will also show them the shortest route to reach me. This will happen without my “tormentors” hearing me say a single word. The program can go so far as to tell the Police when they will reach me given the speed in which they travel.”
“This sounds familiar,” some readers may protest. “Is this not an imitation of such programs as Google Maps and many GPS systems?” they may ask, legitimately. While there are similarities, there are also differences. “The problem with Google Maps, for instance, is that I would have to know the coordinates of where I am, which may not be possible in the first place. Just saying I am in Ha Abia won’t work either. Ha Abia is big! Suppose I do know the coordinates, then I would have to send them to the Police who would then insert them into their computer before they can find me. I may not have such a luxury of time. Even if that works, another challenge is that the coordinates can go down to 7 decimal points. If, for example, I make a mistake in typing just one of these numbers incorrectly, this can mislead those trying to find my location by as much as 30 km away from where I am! However, Mashapps can pinpoint where I am to an accuracy of a few metres! This is not to say that my program is better than Google Maps. It’s just that Google Maps is meant for a different purpose. Mine is a localized solution to an existing problem.”
The beauty of this app is that it is not only for the police. It is meant to serve a variety of other service providers such as ambulance service, utility providers such as those who provide water, electricity and so on. The app screen is divided into police, fire, ambulance, water and electricity. If you click on water for instance, the relevant service provider (WASCO in our case) will receive your location. However, to help the provider understand the nature of the problem, the app has such choices as “leaked pipe” and “no water.” This makes it possible for the providers to come armed with the right tools for the problem.
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations