Technology Innovations

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For the 220 million smartphone users in India, a Bangalore-based startup Street Smart Mobile Technologies has launched an app, SMS Sunami, to organize the deluge of transactional and promotional text messages we receive on our phones daily. The app, which is built using Android Studio, is based on an artificial intelligent platform that uses natural language processing to understand the context of messages and automatically classify them into predefined categories such as bills, entertainment, food, health and fitness, lifestyle, telecom operator, tickets, travel, and more.

According to a recent study, there are over two billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide who use the short message service (SMS) to exchange more than 350 billion text messages every month. Of these over 15% are promotional messages. The SMS Sunami app is aimed organizing and categorizing text messages of the Android smartphone users, making the messages in the default inbox easier to sift.

Street Smart Mobile Technology team (L-R): Prakhar, Prabhu, and Sudeep

Street Smart Mobile Technology team (L-R): Prakhar, Prabhu, and Sudeep

Incubated at Tata Elxsi’s Incub@ate, StreetSmart Mobile Technologies was founded in May 2014 by 27-year-old Prabhu SNM of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, with software engineers Prakhar Dighe (25) of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and Sudeep (24) of Narsapuram, Andhra Pradesh. The trio developed the SMS Sunami app as an offshoot of another app that was aimed at offering hyper-local offers to consumers on their smartphones.

The hyper-local offers app could not succeed but the research for it led the team to realize that consumers are receiving host of text messages directly from service providers and merchants. And besides these messages, people also receive transactional messages processed by banks and of course, personal messages as well. No wonder our message box keeps filling up. And as the name suggests (and refers to tsunami), to help the users clear their inbox without having to delete their messages, SMS Sunami automatically categorizes the overwhelming number of messages a user receives.

“Our algorithm categorizes all text messages except those received from 10-digit numbers, which are personal numbers. This feature ensures privacy,” explains Prabhu.

 

Key features

Besides organizing the incoming messages into defined groups, the key feature of SMS Sunami is that it is capable of reading promotional text messages to serve contextual offers based on the content. For example, if you have a confirmation message from an airline on your travel tickets, SMS Sunami will serve you a cab-rental offer on the date of your travel. The concept applied to smartphone is much similar to what Google does by reading your mailbox. 

SMS Sunami app screenshot-Lifestyle

Lifestyle category screenshot of the app

Addressing the privacy concern on messages being read by the app, Prabhu says, “The SMS Sunami app does not store any messages to read and understand them. The program is built to ensure that the app works offline, without the need for the Internet, and does not store any data on the server. Our program simply functions within the app, reads the message, and pulls contextual offer from the associated merchants. The only time when the app uses the Internet is to identify the message sender with the brand logo to serve the message to the user in a more aesthetic manner.”

Besides this feature, the app allows easy search through the message box that allows you to search through your messages, by vendor name or by keywords. It also allows you to delete messages in bulk. SMS Sunami also automatically identifies key information in messages, such as contact numbers, web links, PNR, tickets, and provides them as ‘call for action’ links, making it easier for the user to use the information instantly.

The free beta version of the app is currently available on Android Play store.

Asked about the release of the iOS version of the app, Prabhu says, “The message APIs [application program interfaces] in the iOS are restricted for developers. This means we cannot develop any iOS app that requires reading the user’s messages. In this matter, I have written to Tim Cook requesting the need for leniency. I am awaiting his reply.”

 

Next steps

The team is working on scaling up the app into free and premium versions. The beta version is in the pre-revenue stage with 1,000+ customers. The trio’s short-term target is to increase the user base to 10,000 customers by the year end.

Sharing his plans for the future, Prabhu adds, “In future we plan to introduce ‘personal’ as a category so that our algorithm can detect personal messages without intruding privacy and categorize them appropriately. We also plan to enable the app to both receive and send messages. The idea is to eventually replace the default messaging application on smartphones with the SMS Sunami app.”

Improved user interface and enabling the user to customize the categories are also part of the plan. The team is also mulling over the idea of patenting the app’s software in the U.S.

The SMS Sunami team can be contacted at ceo@smssunami.com and +91-9790949400.

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BloodBag_470At the 2015 MIT Design Innovation workshop, a MIT Media Lab India initiative, a group of students and professionals has created a mobile application called Blood Collective that allows those in need of blood to search for voluntary blood donors available in the vicinity.  

The team developed the application prototype at the 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop in Gandhinagar as part of the Civic Innovation track which focused on building “the tools that help change the world together”and “a better technological infrastructure to support the engaged citizens who are already acting to make their communities better, and inspire others to join them”.

The home screen of Blood Collective app

The home screen of Blood Collective app

Combining different skills, each team member contributed differently to create the alpha version of the app and test it during the workshop. While IT industry professional Pragnendra Rahevar (32) floated the idea and shared the concept, National Institute of Design graduate Akshah Ish (27) designed the complete user interface of the application. The core development of the app has been done by Ayush Sharma (20) of Arya College of Engineering and IT, Jaipur, with necessary research and support provided by Abhimanyu Kumar (20) of Haldia Institute of Technology, West Bengal. 

Bridging the Gap

Voluntary blood donation is considered the highest form of humanitarian service as it is done without the expectation of knowing who it will eventually help. Each unit of blood donation helps many patients as blood is usually segregated into RBCs, Platelets, WBCs and Plasma and given away as per requirement. But then there are yet not enough people who opt to donate blood. 

In India there is constant shortage of blood. According to a 2012 World Health Organization (WHO), every country needs at least a one percent blood reserve. India, with its 1.2 billion population, needs 12 million units of blood annually but collects only nine million of which 70 percent is from voluntary blood donors while the remaining 30 percent is from family/replacement donors.  

Even though most blood collection is done from voluntary donors, the voluntary blood donors network remains fragmented and inaccessible to a large community at the time of need. The Blood Collective smartphone application aims to tap into this existing network of blood donors and bring them at your fingertips. 

“In India it is just a chance that you will get blood when you need it. Some people do not want to donate blood, while some who are willing to do it find it frustrating to go to the blood banks criteria, fill forms and donate. Tapping into the community of voluntary blood donors therefore remains a challenge. The current gap between the demand for blood and its supply also leaves scope for touts, agents and illegal, unsafe blood donation. Paid blood donation is illegal in India.  Our application targets the problem in a simple manner – if you need blood, connect directly with multiple blood donors close by and see if any of them is willing to offer help,” explains Ayush.

How it works

During the workshop the alpha version of the Indian-centric app was hosted on local servers and directly uploaded to a few mobile phones. However, based on the feedback from mentors and users, with the help of a few volunteers the team is now developing the beta version of the app. 

The app is expected to function like this: The first time the user accesses the application, she will be requested to select from the two categories “I want blood” or “I want to volunteer”. Once a voluntary blood donor selects the latter option, her name and number gets registered in the database. However, for safety reasons, the name and number of the donor is not shared with the requester. Rather, when the requester searches for a donor in the vicinity, she can view profile icons of the available donors and can send a request to them through the app. The requester’s number is sent to the donor and the decision to respond entirely rests with the donor.

The map feature shows the requester available blood donors in the vicinity

The map feature shows the requester available blood donors in the vicinity

The volunteer category also enables the voluntary blood donors to see all requests, allowing the user to contact the requester directly and offer blood donation. 

“The most important aspect of the app is to generate awareness about safety of blood donation and encourage volunteering. Currently, whenever people need blood, they either opt to call, send SMS or post on social networking websites. The wait for a response is stressful. At blood banks, if you have donated blood in past six months, you may be charged around Rs. 1,400 per unit. If you haven’t, the chances of getting blood are dismal. The solution to all this is volunteered blood donation. Bringing volunteer blood donors closer to the needy therefore could be very helpful and that is the focus of the Blood Collective app. Using the app, both a volunteer and a requester can save lives,” explains Pragnendra who has been volunteering with a non-profit organization for over three years, organizing blood donation camps across the country. 

Next Steps

The team is developing the beta version of the app and improving its user interface, adding more features to it, and carrying out basic user testing. It is expected to be available on the Web and on Google Play store by May 2015. The group is looking for more volunteers with specialized skills to develop the application for the iOS and Windows platforms. 

The Blood Collective mobile app has a huge social potential to connect and build a large network of voluntary blood donors with the requesters, allowing the common man to save lives and be human. However, it needs to build on its unique aspects that will differentiate it from the existing apps. 

To know more about Blood Collective, contact pragnendra@gmail.com.

(This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop.)


Getting a cab in Indian metro cities is a tough task. It’s even harder in India’s financial capital – Mumbai, Maharashtra, because there are fewer of them plying the streets. For Mumbai’s 15 million populace, there are just 60,000 taxis available.

A Mumbai-based startup Olacabs has devised a clever technology in hope of closing the gap between India’s infrastructure issues and providing a cab more reliably than its peers. It gives each of its drivers an Android phone to take bookings. And each phone is enabled with an Olacabs application that helps to form a live heatmap of traffic in the cities, and notify the driver of the jams.

The booking information is also crunched by Olacabs to help predict taxi demand ahead of time, and sends more drivers out to areas expecting bookings so that they can respond to online bookings sooner. The company has also built its own mapping layer over Google Maps that has been translated to local dialects for drivers. Founded in January 2011, Olacabs currently operates in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. Read more


Google unveiled a seven-inch tablet computer that it will sell directly to consumers. The device, unveiled at the company’s annual I/O conference in San Francisco, was pitched not as a competitor with Apple’s popular iPad, but as a simple way to enjoy movies, books, games, and other content bought through Google’s Play store.

Google will begin taking orders for Nexus 7 tablets starting today and will ship them in “mid-July,” said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Google’s Android mobile operating system. Barra said that Nexus 7 offers up to nine hours of video playback and 300 hours of standby time. “It’s only 340 grams—just about the weight of a standard paperback,” he said. The Nexus 7 will initially be available only in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia. Read more


Files on a home computer could soon be accessible from anywhere, even when the computer holding them is switched off, thanks to a prototype file-synching system developed at Microsoft’s research labs.

The system is designed to demonstrate an alternative to a growing array of cloud services. “One of our underlying principles is that you don’t always want to put all of your data in the cloud and give it to Google or some other corporation,” said Michelle Mazurek, of Carnegie Mellon University. Read more


Google launched its Facebook competitor, Google+, just over a week ago now. Even though sign-ups have so far been limited to a fraction of Facebook’s 750 million users, it already appears that, for a lot of people, Google+ will become the other social network they need to use. Why? Because a significant fraction of their friends will force them to. 

It’s not just that Google+ has 10-person video hangouts, or that Google+ is magically free of privacy worries. It’s that Google has created the opportunity for Facebook-weary people to perform what one called “a reset on Facebook,” allowing them to escape from Facebook members they’ve friended over the years but don’t really want to interact with—and can’t quite bring themselves to defriend. Read more 


Facebook has revamped its popular chat feature by adding free video calling that can be launched inside the social network’s website. What was most striking about the launch event, held in Palo Alto, was how much CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to distance his company from those seeking to slow its momentum, Google in particular. Read more


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