MIT’s no-code app building software could help during disaster

Shutterstock/ Daniel Loretto

In times of disaster, two things matter the most: speed and organization. Civilians affected by an unforeseen tragedy need to be able to access important pieces of relevant information — and do so as soon as possible. MIT researchers have developed a system to help communities put together mobile-based disaster apps with no coding involved, thanks to a continuation of a former Google product.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Qatar Computing Research Institute developed an Android-based set of tools to help aid workers and communities build disaster-relief tools on the fly. On the platform, a non-programmer can create a mobile app from soup to nuts with no coding knowledge involved, and that app can be helpful enough to give a mobile user necessary and related information with a plain-language search. Using a drag-and-drop system, a worker can easily create a database of shelters, monitor resources, or create a crowdsourcing effort for distributing necessities like food and fresh water.

The tools are built on the backbone of a program called App Inventor. Initially developed by Google, the program was designed to help any user to code with a drag-and-drop system — no programming knowledge required. When the search giant terminated it in 2011, MIT picked up App Inventor and turned it into an open-source platform.

The new disaster tools are not only accessible, thanks to App Inventor’s “no code required” philosophy, but also helpful. The app builder uses the resource distribution framework, or RDF, which is the standard of the Semantic Web. So, a user can create a relational database that relies on salient data points, like location or immediate resources. That way, someone who uses the app will be able to search for everything in plain language and also volunteer new information without worrying about formatting.

In short, these tools can aid in aggregating information and crowdsourcing information in times of need. It’s not only an interesting and potentially helpful product, but it’s a sign that MIT was right in not letting App Inventor die.

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