As we saw in last year’s tragic earthquake in Japan, communication in the wake of a disaster can be a huge problem. Last year network disruptions left many people unable to get in touch with loved ones to find out their whereabouts.
Earthquake Buddy is a new mobile application which aims to resolve the problem of locating people in the event of an earthquake. Once you buy the app (for $4.99), you enter the contact information of four friends or family members. And in the event of an earthquake that registers higher than magnitude 5.5, your buddies will be alerted with your location (see more in demo video below). In addition to the English version, there are Japanese and Spanish versions as well.
Earthquake Buddy was developed by a company called The App Collective, based out of Australia. It was funded by angel investors with contributions from Screen NSW as well. I spoke with CEO Adam Wells to find out more about the app, and the company’s future plans.
Could you tell me a little about your company and this project?
The App Collective was formed to save lives through the use of mobile technology and community engagement. It is currently designing a range of rescue apps including tornado Buddy, Hurricane Buddy, Hiking Buddy. Earthquake Buddy is also being presently developed in the Android platform as well.
As the name implies, The App Collective is a disparate group of app designers, developers and marketeers brought together to make a real difference in saving lives. In all there are two founding ‘employees’ with external experts in the above-mentioned disciplines. Our collective aim is to save lives using both high technology with community engagement.
Importantly, the app has been independently endorsed by Global ‘Recovery Tsar,’ professor Ed Blakely, who headed up the Hurricane Katrina recovery among others. His endorsement allows us to take the app to The United Nations and possibly The World Bank.
How did the project start?
We were astonished to learn that most rescue services often don’t know where to begin their search when trying to find missing victims of large earthquakes. Earthquake Buddy is designed to solve this fundamental problem by ensuring community engagement can act swiftly to find them.
Once Earthquake Buddy is downloaded, users are prompted to enter their details and details of four friends or family members to become their ‘buddies.’ In the event of an earthquake above 5.5 on the Richter scale , the user’s buddies are instantaneously and automatically sent an email, from the cloud, showing a Google map of their location. After 30 minutes, if the user has not heard from his buddies, they can go straight to the Google map location (if safe to do so); or contact emergency services to alert them of their buddies’ location.
Most importantly, the message is designed so it will be received prior to any telecommunications outage and thus does not rely on the iPhone itself to be sent. Buddies can also receive an SMS, a Facebook post and tweet with the same details.
The new app is designed not only for people living in earthquake zones, but also for tourists and business travelers nervous about traveling to quake prone destinations like New Zealand, Japan, the west coast of the USA, and Asia.
What are your plans to promote the Japanese version?
Japan is a primary country for the app. I used to live there, and remember the lengths government and community used to go to prepare for the next big one. Well, the next big one hit last year, and we are determined that through this app we can make a difference to the people of Japan.
There is no other app that automatically and in real-time, finds lived ones after an earthquake. This is why we developed the Japanese language version of the app.
As mentioned above there will be an Android version for Japan in the next couple of months. We plan to engage with government departments, natural disaster management associations and NGOs to spread the word about an app that does so much.
Was there ever any thought to make it a free app somehow, in order to make it available to more people?
We are talking to Apple about changing the remuneration model to a subscription whereby people can buy it for less, then update their subscription in say, 1 year, 3 years etc. We are also deciding on NGOs about sponsorship/s which would allow us to offer it at a lower price. A freemium model is not workable as the app is not an app with value-adds, nor would advertising work as it’s not an app that you would interface with everyday.
That leaves the up-front fee, which we have priced to enable us to continue our development of other rescue apps and platforms. The alternative is per above. When we launch in India and China, our price will definitely be lower.
Is there any plan to speak with local carriers (Docomo, KDDI, Softbank in particular) about licensing the app and pre-loading it on as many smartphones as possible?
We are open to speaking to telcos although our initial launch is direct. We would welcome a dialogue with these telcos though.
Besides India and China, are there plans to expand to other Asian countries? Indonesia perhaps?
China will be our next language, with a possible version for India in Hindi. However we are pragmatic, and know that most of India is not as earthquake prone as Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. An indonesian version is definitely planned. Our decision not to initially develop in Indonesia was because of Indonesia’s high concentration of Symbian phones. We watch market penetration keenly, and as soon as we can see that Android and iOS has a critical mass in Indonesia, we will launch there too.
I’m told that this comes from USGS data, but there are standby feeds as well. ↩