Spot a crater, tap an app
You’re hurtling, though more likely faltering if in Java, along a major road. Suddenly you hit a hole that’s probably been there from before the Revolution. How you respond depends on your location and whether you’re an Indonesian or a Westerner.
Should you be a local in Australasia you’d direct a few expletives towards those responsible for highway maintenance. Taxes are heavy enough – fix the wretched thing. You have problems? That’s your concern, not mine.
If damage has occurred to self or vehicle you might call a lawyer and demand the road authority pays compensation.
However an Indonesian in her or his homeland is likely to be more forgiving, knowing that hazards abound; the responsible bureaucrats could be thigh-deep in paperwork, unable to get out and check every byway.
So why not give them a hand by reporting the peril? Easy to say, difficult to do. Who to call and where? Suppose it’s after hours, and the public service office still as a graveyard at midnight?
These were the dilemmas facing four smart information technology [IT] students from Malang’s Kanjurahan University - Taruna Yoga Pratama, 22, Mohammad Nurul Hakiki, 20, Rico Tetuku Santoso, 20, and Fathur Rohim, 21.
They all ride motorcycles. They’ve all had accidents, one man three times. “I just wasn’t paying attention,” confessed Rico, nursing a bandaged elbow and blaming only himself. “I should have been more careful.” He laughs. Your reporter winces.
They call themselves Team THOR, picking letters from their names to make the amalgam; like young men everywhere they want to sound macho, modern, and invincible.
Thor was originally a god in Norse mythology but he’s been thumped by an American superhero of the same name who appears in comics and cult movies now showing in Indonesia and apparently reaping billions.
In the interests of honest journalism we note the THOR fellows though tech-savvy and pleasant enough, seem poor candidates to defeat the Frost Giants of Jotunheim in single handed combat should they invade Java. However if the ammunition is apps the Good Guys will win.
Unlike its parents, Generation Click travels light, uncluttered by pens and paper. Members interface with the world through keyboards. Their IT knowledge may be measured in terabytes, but their face-to-face skills come in kilobytes. Who needs to talk when you can tweet?
What they lack in muscle and sentences beyond 140 characters they’ve compensated with marketable abilities by designing an app that’s won them Rp 10 million [US$ 740] in a provincial competition.
This was organized by an international tech giant and the local government in Sidoarjo alongside the capital of Surabaya. It’s the smallest regency in East Java with some of the biggest factories, so tonnes of traffic.
Sidoarjo’s CityApp two-day Appathon [another verbal concoction derived from ‘marathon’] was part of the Microsoft CityNext program. Team THOR beat out 47 other contestants.
According to the company the Appathon is ‘a global initiative that seeks to transform and modernize the implementation of operational and infrastructure in various cities …
‘It aims to use the imagination and innovation of young people and students in the area of Sidoarjo to develop a technically viable solution to the challenges of urban development.”
There have been similar competitions in Makassar and overseas: Changchun in China, and Kathmandu in Nepal.
Team THOR’s app is called ROAR for Road Report. When polished and connected it will be available free. It works like this:
Travellers carry Smartphones loaded with ROAR. When they encounter craters and other dangers they can just snap a picture in passing.
ROAR then automatically sends the photo and its coordinates straight to the person in charge of repairs who then presumably despatches a crew of fixers. No need to fidget with texts or spend a fortune in calls waiting to find someone responsible - just a quick click and begone.
“At the moment most people grumble about the roads by calling radio talk-back,” said Ari Suryono, head of Sidoarjo’s local and international cooperation bureau.
“However the complaints aren’t always clear, they aren’t directed to the right people and the location is often vague.
“We believe the app will make a difference by informing us of the problem in real time and providing a precise location.
“It will probably go live next April. In the long term it will save us money by getting black spots fixed speedily and of course by making the roads safer.
“We will respond to alerts. We want to cooperate with the community and ROAR will help us get closer.
“We have a road gang of about 100, but for a lot of work we rely on contractors. Sidoarjo has almost 2,000 kilometers of roads and maybe 20 per cent need attention. We spend almost 30 per cent of our budget on highway maintenance.
“It’s the big overloaded trucks that do the damage. They are breaking regulations which aren’t being policed. Yet Sidoarjo’s roads are better than many others in the province.”
Added THOR spokesman Taruna: “We want to help our governments keep the roads safe and understand the workers can’t find every problem. This way we work with them, not against.”
Suppose the authorities get overwhelmed with reports on ruts and fractures? Indonesian roads are often like the rupiah and constantly tumbling into an abyss.
“That’s up to them,” said Taruna. “We are not trying to shame public servants, that’s not our aim. There should be a good relationship between the people and government.”
Some of the most awful roads in the Republic are on Madura, the home of the THOR lads’ lecturer Mohammad Ahsan. He agreed that he’ll need his students’ skills to make the island navigable to transports using wheels, not tank tracks.
“The app will work anywhere,” he said. “All it needs is to be linked with the right local authority.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 17 November 2015)