An all-UP System group of student developers shared top honors in the 2021 Google Developer Student Clubs (GDSC) Solution Challenge.

Jian Asiado (UP Los Baños), Patricia Marie Garcia (UP Visayas Miag-ao Campus), Rex Ronter Ruiz (UP Diliman), and Joerian Gauten (UP Open University) composed the winning quartet called UP Systeam.

The group told DZUP that they were taken aback by their success in the global competition after previously falling short at the university-level challenge.

“At first, we were truly shocked since we had truly not expected to even reach the top 10. This project was actually conceived last March 2021 during the local solution’s challenge at UP Diliman organized by the Google Student Developers Club – UPD. The team was unplaced […] so it set our expectations low when we joined the global competition,” they shared.

Despite these shortcomings, the group held on to the significance of their project and took the loss as added motivation to thrive in the international stage. They felt ecstatic in a state of disbelief as they finished in the top three among more than 850 global projects in the competition.

“Purely believing that the project has a big potential to serve the vulnerable communities on flooded islands, the loss propelled us also to refine our solution more, to improve our project outputs, and to expand our network of partnerships and collaborations,” they added.

Also, the quartet revealed a multitude of personal and logistical challenges they had to overcome throughout the entire duration of the project.

“First, the team members have not yet met in person as we are from different UP campuses […]. Second, it was difficult to initiate and to arrange island visits for baseline information gathering […] Even creating focus group discussion was challenging due to limited social gathering set-ups,” the team bared.

Some of the team members also contracted COVID-19 or were subjected to quarantine as close contacts, which obliged them to regroup their designated assignments.

Challenge in focus

According to the Google Developers’ official site, the primary objective of the 2021 Solution Challenge is to offer various innovative approaches in addressing at least one of the United Nations’ United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through the use of Google’s expansive array of technologies. 

The said competition, spearheaded by the GDSC, opened its doors to tertiary students from across the world to lobby their emerging ideas and conceptions on an international level.

Participants went through a series of introductory instructional videos from Google Developers’ experts prior to completing and submitting the respective demonstrations of their proposed projects on Apr. 11.

The top 50 teams were given mentorship from Google’s pool of experts to modify their entries and formulate solutions to vie for the competition’s top three places.

From a preliminary field of 50, the top 10 finalists received a one-year subscription to online education site Pluralsight, Google merchandise, personalized mentoring programs, a special feature in the Google Developers Blog, and a live Demo Day presentation on YouTube.

The three winning teams, including UP Systeam, bagged their own Chromebooks and had the opportunity to meet with key executives from Google.

The winning project

Photo: Google Developers on YouTube

UP Systeam’s winning project is the Island Response and Intervention for Systemic Evacuation (i-RISE), a cloud-based digital disaster risk management system which aims to contribute to UN SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and UN SDG 13 (Climate Action).

Furthermore, i-RISE made use of Google technologies such as Cloud Firestore, Cloud Function, Firebase, and Flutter. The project was specifically developed for the flood-prone islands of the Municipality of Tubigon in Bohol. 

For UP Systeam, the worsening situation in their chosen locality was their primary inspiration in pursuing this project.

“The main motivation of this winning project is the sad condition of the residents of the flooded islands in Tubigon, Bohol. We can just imagine living in a danger zone on flooded islands with limited access to information and [suffering from] regular typhoon onslaught,” they said.

Image from Google Developers on YouTube 

The group laid down its three primary target impacts of ensuring instant delivery, conveying accurate information, and providing unlimited reach. 

i-RISE’s three-fold digital disaster risk management platform consists of a fabricated tide gauge for monitoring use, as well as web and mobile applications for the corresponding authorities and the general populace.

Local officials can access i-RISE’s web application in cascading information, announcing evacuation protocols, and educating the general public on disaster and risk reduction measures. Residents, on the other hand, can use the mobile application for rescue requests and incident reports in dire emergency situations. 

During UP Systeam’s presentation at the 2021 Solution Challenge Demo Day on Aug. 31, the group discussed four core functionalities of i-RISE, namely: (1) weather and tide information and typhoon advisories; (2) trigger evacuation with one button; (3) be alerted hours before high tides; and (4) coordinate rescue operations.

Image from Google Developers on YouTube 

According to Ruiz, Project i-RISE manager and Boholano native, the team unanimously agreed to tackle disaster-related issues for their project, citing the Philippines’ vulnerability to natural calamities.

“When our team first convened, all [showed] interest to confront the challenge of building disaster resilience in the country. Subsequently, our team also visited the flooded islands of Tubigon and the sad plights of the residents have greatly inspired us as we build Project i-RISE,” Ruiz shared.

When asked about their consultative efforts with academic institutions, local government units, and national officials, the group shared the positive reception of their project. 

“They all have been very supportive and amazed how the youth, students in particular, take our active part for climate action,” Garcia said.

“Apart from the [LGUs] that help us in conducting surveys, interviews, [and FGDs] with the islanders, we also reached out to the Philippine Department of Environment and National Resources and colleges from the University of the Philippines. They are instrumental to help us define the problem we are solving,” Asiado added.

Moreover, Gauten highlights i-RISE’s vision of “a resilient and inclusive Philippines where Filipinos across the archipelago can participate in an effective disaster risk management system and with Google technologies [to] implement the project.”

Plans moving forward

i-RISE is currently in its earliest phase and is targeted to reach full completion by next year. 

“We are still on the phase 1 of the project and the refining of our system functionalities is still ongoing. We aim to achieve the three phases and three core services [web app, mobile app, and tide gauges] of the project next year.” 

The team adds that they received technical assistance for Project i-RISE earlier this year and are set to take part in extensive mentorships moving forward.

“Last June, we were granted technical assistance from the Climate Technology Centre Network and United Nations Environment Program. After the Google Solutions Challenge last August 2021, we will undergo mentoring with a Google Developer Expert and join the Google Accelerator Program to kick-off as a start-up project.”

Garcia added that the team is keen to launch partnerships with some of the country’s telecommunication companies for a localized emergency hotline number to significantly widen i-RISE’s reach and accessibility to the masses. DZUP

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