[This post is written by André Baart and describes his MSc thesis]
While the internet usage in the developing world is still low, the adoption of simple mobile phones is widespread. A way to offer the advantages of the internet to these populations is voice-based information systems. The KasaDaka voice-services platform is aimed at providing voice-services in the context of ICT for Development (ICT4D). The platform is based on a Raspberry Pi and a GSM modem, which enables affordable voice-service hosting, using the locally available GSM network. The platform takes into account the special requirements of the ICT4D context, such as limited internet connectivity and low literacy rates.
This research focuses on lowering the barrier to entry of voice-service development, by reducing the skill set needed to do so. A Voice Service Development Kit (VSDK) is developed that allows the development of voice-services by deploying and customizing provided building-blocks. These building blocks each represent a type of interaction that is often found in voice-services. (for example a menu, user voice input or the playback of a message) The researcher argues that the simplification of voice-service development is an essential step towards sustainable voice-services in the ICT4D context; As this increases the potential number of local voice-service developers, hremoving the dependency on foreign (and thus expensive) developers and engineers. This simplification should ideally be achieved by providing a graphical interface to voice-service development.
The VSDK was evaluated during the ICT4D course at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where students built applications for various ICT4D use-cases using the VSDK. Afterwards a survey was conducted, which provided insight on the students’ experiences with voice-service development and the VSDK. From the results of the evaluation is concluded that the building-block approach to voice-service development used in the VSDK, is successful for the development of simple voice-services. It allows newcomers to (voice-service) development, to quickly develop (simple) voice-services from a graphical interface, without requiring programming experience.
The VSDK combined with the existing KasaDaka platform provides a good solution to the hosting and development of voice-services in the ICT4D context.
More details can be found in the complete thesis.A slidedeck is included below. You can find the VSDK code on Andre’s Github: http://github.com/abaart/KasaDaka-VSDK
[This post describes research by Fahad Ali and is based on his Msc. thesis]
Contextual constraints (lack of infrastructure, low-literacy etc.) play an important role in ICT for Development (ICT4D) projects. The Kasadaka project offers a technological platform for knowledge sharing applications in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, lack of stable internet connections restrict exchange of data between distributed Kasadaka instances, which leads us to research alternative ways of machine-to-machine (m2m) communication.
Fahad Ali’s research focuses on mobile elements and using wifi sneakernets for this m2m to enable information sharing between geographically distributed devices. He developed a Raspberry Pi-based device called the Wifi-donkey that can be mounted on a vehicle and facilitates information exchange with nearby devices, using the built-in wifi card of the rPi 3.The solution is based on Piratebox offline file-sharing and communications system built with free software and uses off-the-shelf Linux software components and configuration settings to allow it to discover and connect to nearby Kasadaka devices based using Wifi technologies.
We evaluated the solution by simulating a low resource setting and testing it by performing so-called “pass-bys” in an Amsterdam residential area. In these cases, SPARQL queries are exchanged between host and client devices and we measure amount of RDF triples transferred. This setup matches earlier case requirements as described in Onno Valkering’s work.Results show that the system works fairly reliably in the simulated setting. The machine-to-machine communication method can be used in various ICT4D projects that require some sort of data sharing functionality.
You can find out more about Fahad’s work through the following resources:
During the National Day for Sustainability (Nationale dag voor duurzaamheid in het hoger onderwijs 2017), the ICT4D team presented our current research and educational activities to the many participants of this event, hosted at VU. Anna Bon and myself presented our work on sustainable methodologies for ICT4D as well as current work on small and sustainable ICT platform (Kasadaka), see the slides below.
After this, the participants got a chance to meet our students and their very nice projects up close in an interactive demonstration session. Selected ICT4D students presented the voice-accessible services.
Yesterday, 18 May 2017, the 4th International ICT4D symposium was held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The event was organized by the W4RA team and supported by VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, VU Computer Science Department and VU International Office. Invited speakers from Ghana, France and the Netherlands highlighted this year’s theme was “Sustainability and ICT4D”.
Keynote speaker Gayo Diallo from Universite de Bordeaux discussed the possibilities of ICT for African Traditional Medicine (ATM). In his talk, he showed how semantic web technologies can play a role here to connect heterogeneous datasets for analytics and end-user services. Such services would need to be based on voice-interaction and localized technologies. His slides can be found here.
Chris van Aart from 2Coolmonkeys discussed a number of smartphone applications developed in the context of W4RA activities, including Mr. Jiri a tree-counting application. He proved there is a market for such applications in the African context (Slides).
After the break, Francis Dittoh from UDS Ghana discussed issues around sustainbility for a meteo application he is currently developing for Northern-Ghana (slides). Wendelien Tuijp from VU’s CIS then presented multiple perspectives on ICT4D (Slides). The symposium was closed by a video presentation from Aske Robenhagen, showcasing the ongoing work in Nepal around mapping knowledge networks and developing a smartphone application supporting information exchange for local accountability extension workers. More information on that project can be found at nepalnetworks.org/
The presentations of the day can be found through the links above. The entire symposium was live-streamed and you can watch it all on youtube or below.
Below is a lost of the approximate starting time of the various speakers in the video
6m19 Dr. Gayo Diallo – Université de Bordeaux (FR): Towards a Digital African Traditional Healthcare using Semantic Web.
56m28 Dr. Chris van Aart – 2CoolMonkeys BV (NL) : Developing Smartphone Apps for African farmers.
1h52m00 Francis Dittoh – University for Development Studies (Ghana): ICT business development in rural Africa.
2h23m00 Wendelien Tuyp – CIS-VU : Sustainable Community Initiatives and African Farmer Innovation.
In modern day research, dissemination is key and it is therefore always nice to see research results being shared with the public in new and unforseen ways. Our work within the Web for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) is now part of a exhibition in the Museon museum in the Hague. The exhibition focuses on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. As content partner of the Museon, the W4RA programme of VU has contributed ideas, visuals and texts for the exposition related to SDG No. 15, entitled “Plant in het Zand” (Plant in the sand).
From the press release:Land degradation and desertification are increasing due to both natural and human causes, including climate change and population pressures. Areas can no longer meet the needs of their populations, with famine and poverty as a result. There are various solutions, but regreening – the natural (re)generation and protection of trees by local farmers themselves – is a highly successful one. Belts of trees act as windbreaks, helping to stop soil blowing away, keeping it moist for longer, and providing a micro-climate that is better for people, animals and plants. Trees also provide food and many other economically useful products.
Within the W4RA programme, we integrate local ICT web and mobile app innovations to support local knowledge sharing around regreening efforts.
I chose to publish the proceedings of Downscale2016 using Figshare. This gives a nice persistent place for the proceedings and includes a DOI. To cite the proceedings, use the text below. The proceedings is published using the CC-BY license.
Victor de Boer, Anna Bon, Cheah WaiShiang and Nana Baah Gyan (eds.) Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web (Downscale2016). Co-located with the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) Sep 1, 2016, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.3827052.v1
[This post is based on the Information Sciences MSc. thesis by Onno Valkering]
To make widespread knowledge sharing possible in rural areas in developing countries, the notion of the Web has to be downscaled based on the specific low-resource infrastructure in place. In this paper, we introduce SPARQL over SMS, a solution for exchanging RDF data in which HTTP is substituted by SMS to enable Web-like exchange of data over cellular networks.
The solution uses converters that take outgoing SPARQL queries sent over HTTP and convert them into SMS messages sent to phone numbers (see architecture image). On the receiver-side, the messages are converted back to standard SPARQL requests.
The converters use various data compression strategies to ensure optimal use of the SMS bandwidth. These include both zip-based compression and the removal of redundant data through the use of common background vocabularies. The thesis presents the design and implementation of the solution, along with evaluations of the different data compression methods.
The application is validated in two real-world ICT for Development (ICT4D) cases that both use the Kasadaka platform: 1) An extension of the DigiVet application allows sending information related to veterinary symptoms and diagnoses accross different distributed systems. 2) An extension of the RadioMarche applicationinvolves the retrieval and adding of current offerings in the market information system, including the phone number of the advertisers.
For more information:
Download Onno’s Thesis. A version of the thesis is currently under review.
[This post is based on Andre Baart’s B.Sc. thesis. The text is mostly written by him]
In developing (rural) communities, the adoption of mobile phones is widespread. This allows information to be offered to these communities through voice-based services. This research explores the possibilities of creating a flexible framework (Kasadaka) for hosting voice services in rural communities. The context of the developing world poses special requirements, which have been taken into account in this research. The framework creates a voice service that incorporates dynamic data from a data store. The framework allows for a low-effort adaptation to new and changing use cases. The service is hosted on cheap, low-powered hardware and is connected to the local GSM network through a dongle. We validated the working and flexibility of the framework by adapting it to a new use case. Setting up this new voice server was possible in less than one hour, proving that it is suitable for rapid prototyping. This framework enables further research into the effects and possibilities of hosting voice based information services in the developing world. The image below shows the different components and the dataflow between these components when a call is made. Read more in Andre Baart‘s thesis (pdf).
All information on how to get started with Kasadaka can be found on the project’s GitHub page: https://github.com/abaart/KasaDaka
Text in italics only takes place when setting up the call.
Asterisk receives the call from the GSM dongle, answers the call, and connects it to VXI. Asterisk receives the user’s input and forwards it to VXI.
VXI requests the configured VoiceXML document from Apache. VXI requests the configured VoiceXML document from Apache. Together with the request, it sends the user input.
Apache runs the Python program (based on Flask), in which data from the triple store has to be read or written. Python sends the SPARQL query to ClioPatria.
ClioPatria runs the query on the data present, and sends the result of the query back to the Python program.
Python renders the VoiceXML template. The dynamic data is now inserted in the VoiceXML document, and it is sent back to VXI.
VXI starts interpreting the VoiceXML document. In the document there are references to audio files. It sends requests to Apache for the referenced files.
Apache sends a request for the file to the file system.
The file is read from the file system.
Apache responds with the requested audio files.
VXI puts all the audio files in the correct order and plays them back sequentially, sending the audio to the GSM dongle.
During the workshop, which was attended by around 25 AOPP members from all over Mali, we followed up on the results of a previous workshop in 2015, where we co-developed a number of use cases around improving the lives of rural farmers in Mali. Specifically, we developed two prototypes services accessible using simple mobile phones:
An online marketplace for seeds. Farmers can call in to the system to place offerings of seeds or browse current offers of seeds of various quality levels in a specific region.
A chicken vaccination service. For this service, an extension worker can register newly born chickens in the system. The system keeps an administration of when farmers need to vaccinate their chickens against specific diseases. The system then calls the farmer and plays a reminder message in his/her language.
These services were developed on Kasadaka, the cheap and low-resource rapid-prototyping platform for knowledge-rich and voice-accessible services. During the workshop we were able to further test the Kasadaka in the field. A field trip to local farmers and a milk cooperation in nearby Ouelessebougou gave us further context and information in how these services can support locals (see also the video embedded below). Chris van Aart from 2coolmonkeys demonstrated his progress on the Senepedia wiki and two Android applications that allow farmers and organizers to use geo-services to count cows, trees or other objects in the field.
In addition to these two services, we also presented seven services on the Kasadaka, developed by students of the VUA ICT4D M.Sc. course. These included a weather information service, two vetirenary services, general-purpose knowledge sharing platforms, farmer alert services and a milk market. These services were all very well received and allowed the workshop participants to really see the full potential of voice-enabled information services.
The presentation below shows more information, my personal highlights from the workshop (hence the title) as well as feedback received on the seven student projects.
On 5 april 2016, Nana Baah Gyan successfully defended his PhD thesis “The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa, An ICT4D Approach” in front of the reading committee at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr. Nana worked as a PhD researcher mostly in the context of the FP-7 VOICES project and was supervised by prof. Hans Akkermans and dr. Victor de Boer.
Nana investigated the history of speech systems in developing countries. He discussed and developed strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.
His thesis furthermore deals with evaluating the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. The thesis also discusses what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond.