Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Qatar Computing Research Institute have developed new tools that allow people with minimal programming skill to rapidly build mobile phone applications that can help with disaster relief.
Extensions of the App Inventor, the tools utilize open-source software that enables amateur programmers to create applications for devices running Google's Android operating system by snapping together color-coded graphical components. Based on decades of MIT research, the App Inventor was initially a Google product, but it was later rereleased as open-source software managed by MIT.
With these tools an emergency aid worker could build an application to monitor many different data sources on the Internet for updated information about the locations of ad hoc shelters, and display them all on a Google map. The app could also allow individual users to revise, annotate or supplement the information displayed in the map.
The researchers presented their new tools at the Workshop on Semantic Cities last month in Beijing. The MIT researchers on the paper presented -- principal research scientist Lalana Kagal, graduate students Oshani Seneviratne, Daniela Miao and Fu-ming Shih, and postdoc Ilaria Liccardi -- are all members of CSAIL's Decentralized Information Group (DIG).
DIG shares office space in MIT's Stata Center with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization that establishes Web standards like the hypertext markup language (html) and the extensible markup language (xml). Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor, heads the W3C, but in his capacity as 3COM Founders Professor of Engineering at MIT, he also directs DIG.
DIG's focus is research that takes advantage of the standards developed by the W3C. The new app-development tool requires that the data it accesses be formatted according to the resource description framework, or RDF.