Present a design concept for a networked device or system that helps a community in need.
My concept is a GSM button that sends emergency SMS messages to the family, friends, lawyer and other key contacts of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid victim.
The device looks like a nondescript watch or bracelet. It contains a SIM card, Adafruit FONA or any other kind of GSM breakout board with SMS support, microcontroller, battery and button. When the device's button is pressed, the device is programmed to send a message to a predetermined list of recipients. If the person wearing it is in trouble, they can press the button on their watch or bracelet and it will send the message to their group.
As a product designed for immigrants at risk of being arrested, the device serves as a distress signal. It can help a user's friends and family quickly address the immediate needs of the user: contact their lawyer, take care of their kids, etc. It also provides the emotional service of letting people close to the user know they've been detained. Safety status broadcasting is an increasingly common consideration- take Facebook's new Safety Check feature, which allows users to broadcast to their network that they're safe in the event of an emergency. This device would allow for a discreet form of broadcast.
One of the biggest challenges I had in developing this product concept was security. It's very important that the device not become a honey pot which ICE officials can use to find networks of immigrants. Here are some security measures I've developed.
Before programming the device, the wearer should meet with their group of intended message recipients and agree on a coded message, ie "04850" or "Let's meet at mom's house?"- any message that has no context in itself but will mean "distress signal from [watch wearer]." Everyone in the group should remember this coded message and not write it down. This is historically the most secure form of encryption.
The device has its own pre-paid SIM card and is not linked to any external phone account. The device has no GPS tracking. The user's group of recipients subscribes to the SMS broadcast with Google Voice accounts, which are notoriously hard to track. Additional layers of removal are encouraged.
The device should look as nondescript as possible.
I presented this product to my class and a panel of two investment advisors. My classmate Dorothy Lam is interested in building out a prototype with me for her homemade hardware class. She suggests making the device a bracelet to ensure wearability. I like that idea; in any case, we'll need to make custom circuits. Here's her blog post.
The most substantial feedback came from a panelist, who suggested I repackage this product to emphasize its wide-market appeal, and accept this specific use as being one of many potential fringe uses for a product that many people can use. He's right- this product is a great alternative to smart-phone based button devices for anyone who doesn't have a smart phone (ie seniors, children, low income people) or who must be discrete in asking for help (ie abuse victims).
I'm going to prototype this with Dorothy, which will include making custom small circuits. I'll then get in touch with the panelist about a revised presentation.