W4RA work featured in BBC article

Screenshot of the bBC article
Screenshot of the bBC article “‘Siri, will talking ever top typing?’ By Padraig Belton”

A BBC web article “‘Siri, will talking ever top typing?’ By Padraig Belton features our W4RA work done on voice interfaces for farmer information in Northern Ghana.

Francis Dittoh talks about the need for specific information for farmers in their own language and discusses ongoing research into our Kasadaka system. Anna Bon talks more about the web of voices. Very nice to see our work recognized by international media!

Read more at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-43409952

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A Voice Service Development Kit for the Kasadaka platform

[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

 

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Machine-to-machine communication in rural conditions: Realizing KasadakaNet

[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.

Example of a KasadakaNet situation, with a wifi-donkey mounted on a bus, visiting a city and two remote villages, creating a so-called sneakernet

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.

Experimental setup: the wifi-donkey taped to an Amsterdam balcony to test range and bandwith.

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:

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ICT4D at Sustainability day

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.

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All photos by SURFSara, more pictures of the event can be found on Flickr.

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A look back at Downscale2016

On 29 August, the 4th International Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web (Downscale2016) was held as a full-day workshop in Amsterdam co-located with the ICT4S conference. The workshop attracted 12 participants and we received 4 invited paper contributions, which were presented and discussed in the morning session (slides can be found below). These papers describe a issues regarding sustainability of ICT4D approaches, specific downscaled solutions for two ICT4D use cases and a system for distributed publishing and consuming of Linked Data.. The afternoon session was reserved for demonstrations and discussions. An introduction into the Kasadaka platform was followed by an in-depth howto on developing voice-based information services using Linked Data. The papers and the descriptions of the demos are gathered in a proceedings (published online at figshare: doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.3827052.v1).

downscale2016 participants
Downscale2016 participants (photo: Kim Bosman)

During the discussions the issue of sustainability was addressed. Different dimensions of sustainability were discussed (technical, economical, social and environmental). The participants agreed that a holistic approach is needed for successful and sustainable ICT4D and that most of these dimensions were indeed present in the four presentations and the design of the Kasadaka platform. There remains a question on how different architectural solutions for services (centralized, decentralized, cloud services) relate to eachother in terms of sustainability and when a choice for one of these is most suited. Discussion then moved towards different technical opportunities for green power supplies, including solar panels.

The main presentations and slides are listed below::

  • Downscale2016  introduction (Victor and Anna) (slides)
  • Jari Ferguson and Kim Bosman. The Kasadaka Weather Forecast Service (slides)
  • Aske Robenhagen and Bart Aulbers. The Mali Milk Service – a voice based platform for enabling farmer networking and connections with buyers. (slides)
  • Anna Bon, Jaap Gordijn et al. A Structured Model-Based Approach To Preview Sustainability in ICT4D (slides)
  • Mihai Gramada and Christophe Gueret Low profile data sharing with the Entity Registry System (ERS) (slides)

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Msc project: Low-Bandwith Semantic Web

[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.

SPARQL in an SMS architecture
SPARQL over SMS architecture

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.

Test setup with two Kasadakas
Test setup with two Kasadakas

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 application involves 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.
  • The slides for Onno’s presentation are also available: Onno Valkering
  • View the application code at https://github.com/onnovalkering/sparql-over-sms

 

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Kasadaka 1.0

[This post is based on Andre Baart’s B.Sc. thesis. The text is mostly written by him]

Generic overview of Kasadaka
Generic overview of Kasadaka

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 

 

The different components and dataflow
The different components and dataflow (see below)

Text in italics only takes place when setting up the call.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. ClioPatria runs the query on the data present, and sends the result of the query back to the Python program.
  5. Python renders the VoiceXML template. The dynamic data is now inserted in the VoiceXML document, and it is sent back to VXI.
  6. VXI starts interpreting the VoiceXML document. In the document there are references to audio files. It sends requests to Apache for the referenced files.
  7. Apache sends a request for the file to the file system.
  8. The file is read from the file system.
  9. Apache responds with the requested audio files.
  10. VXI puts all the audio files in the correct order and plays them back sequentially, sending the audio to the GSM dongle.

This cycle repeats until the call is terminated.

 

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Inviting submissions to Downscale2016

The Fourth International Workshop on Downscaling the (Semantic) Web (Downscale2016) will be co-located with the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S). The workshop will be Aug 29 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Downscale2016 follows success of previous Downscale workshops and will mostly focus on appropriate infrastructures. Instead of using large-scale centralised approaches to data management we look at breaking data-centric architectures into smaller components that consume less electricity, be cheaper to own, and more flexible than a “big server” while still mimicking, as a swarm, the features one such big server would provide. As such, the workshop matches ICT for Development (ICT4D) goals with ICT for Solutions (ICT4S) and we expect that the dialogue between ICT4S, Semantic Web and ICT4D researchers and practitioners will further each of the research fields.

We are currenty inviting both short papers (6 pages) or abstracts (2 pages) describing current or late­breaking research in ICT4D. These papers will undergo a light ­review procedure. For more information, visit the workshop web page.

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2nd TMT Workshop in Bamako

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Kasadaka as presented by AOPP

From 7-9 May 2016, the second TMT-AOPP workshop was held in Bamako, Mali. This workshop was held in the context of the Tailor Made Training project that VU Amsterdam participates in together with the Malinese farmer organization Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes (AOPP).

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

2016-05-08 12.03.55.jpgThese 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.

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Chris van Aart shows his apps

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAoXpvkdx5w

 

 

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A look back at the 3rd VU ICT4D symposium

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VU Rector Prof. Subramaniam opens the symposium

On 6 April 2016, the Third International Symposium “Perspectives on ICT for Development (ICT4D)” was hosted by the VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, the Computer Science Department and VU International Office. This year’s theme was “Community Service & Education”. A great team of invited speakers from India, Ghana, South-Africa and the Netherlands discussed the merits, challenges and research agendas for ICTs for Development, presenting case studies from various contexts: rural development, health, and education.

2016-04-06 10.39.25The symposium showed different technical solutions, including mobile technologies and small and cheap hardware to cope with local contexts in developing countries. Different speakers also discussed bottom-up methodologies designed for the local context to discover and co-develop interesting ICT solutions and services.

You can watch the entire event through the recorded livestream as presented below. Speakers presented in blocks of 2 around a single topic or location and engaged in discussion after the second speaker. We here present a list of speakers, their timestamp in the recording (including a direct link) as well as PDF slides for their presentations (all rights remain with the original authors).

0.00 Welcome by Symposium Chairs Victor de Boer and Anna Bon (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) [Slides: Victor Introduction]

0.00.40 Opening address by the VU Rector Prof. Dr. Vinod Subramaniam

0.06.40 VU-Informatics/ICT4D: Gossa Lô & Romy Blankendaal (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Gossa Lo Romy Blankendaal]
0.24.39 VU-Informatics/ICT4D: Dr. Stefan Schlobach (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Stefan Schlobach]

1.18.52 Ghana: Prof. Dr. Saa Dittoh (University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana)  [Slides: Saa_Dittoh]
1.39.46 Ghana: Dr. Nana Baah Gyan (Accra, Ghana)  [Slides: Nana_Baah_Gyan]

2.05.59 India: Prof. Dr. Maneesha Ramesh (Amrita University, India)  [No slides available]
2.32.16 India: Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Broerse (Director Athena Institute VU)  [Slides: Jacqueline_Broerse]

3.49.48 Water and Data: Frank Annor (TU Delft / TAHMO)  [No slides available]
4.10.42 Water and Data: Annabelle Poelert (AKVO, Amsterdam)  [Slides: Annabelle Poelert]

4.51.40 South-Africa: Prof. Dr. Mmantsae Moche Diale (University of Pretoria, South-Africa)  [Slides: Mmantsae Diale]
5.18.10 South-Africa: Prof. Dr. André Ran (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Andre_Ran]

5.48.30 Wrap up by Symposium Chairs 

 

 

 

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