What We Do | Student Society

Information Systems

We explore the application of Information Systems in development, a remit which includes using SMS as an inexpensive and efficient way of communicating with all sectors of society, improving NGO processes through the use of apps and cloud based data storage and real-time monitoring of houses which have been designed by the ecohouse initiative.

This last aim is no mean feat. By monitoring performance – such as internal temperature and humidity – we can assess the effectiveness of different house designs over a sustained period of time. The major challenge is that the data and communications systems are developed in Cambridge, UK whilst the houses themselves are constructed in Latin America. Consequently, the solutions we employ must be not only low cost and low power, but also resilient, robust and capable of making data from multiple houses available to teams on the other side of the world.

Not only will the information systems have to cope with weather conditions and potential water or heat damage, but also kids trying to play with them. And whilst solar power would be an ideal power source, the reality is that it is potentially an obvious target for thieves. Much of our refinement therefore focusses on fine-tuning the system to keep it asleep for as long as possible, so that the hubs can get the most out of their batteries.

Social Impact

With testing of the monitoring system currently in progress and the concept proved by early positive results, the focus is now on refinement, improvement and the next phase of the Information Systems project: community involvement and training. This will examine how our solutions can act as educational tools, to teach people across the world about sustainability, development, electronics and computing. We will look closely at how communities can be engaged in putting together the hardware and evaluating the benefits it can deliver. One follow on project is just starting up – clevrly is a project looking at how we can open up learning online and offline!

Two other exciting work streams are on the agenda. The first consists of developing an app for TECHO volunteers to record social surveys on their phones, uploading images and text instantly to an online database. The second involves using SMS to help those without bank accounts track their financial transactions and qualify for loans. The team will be testing prototypes of both systems in Latin America this summer.