Lessons from 3.11 #02: Google maps+satellite/aerial photos+car probe=very useful!

When 3.11 (i.e. Great East Japan Earthquake) took place three years ago, Google was very quick to respond.

A few Googlers started working on localization of Google Person Finder; it was up and running within 106 minutes after the earthquake. That was when Google has opened and announced first version of Google Crisis Response page in Japanese.
Six hours after that, the team found out, most people were still using feature phone (back in 2011) and couldn't access the web page, so they have modified Person Finder and made it accessible via Japanese feature phones.
(FYI. after Typhoon Yolanda hit Philippines in 2013, Person Finder also became accessible through SMS).

Google Person Finder will let you search (or report), if your friends/family are ok after a disaster. Click the image above to try it out in test mode.

Another group lead by Kei Kawai started to prepare satellite photos and aerial photos of the area of damage; Kei did so after the advice of Kevin Reece, who had experience in responding to a big natural disaster and who knew aerial photos will be very important.

Before I explain further, perhaps, I need to clarify the difference between Satellite photos and aerial photos. As the name implies Satellite photos are took in space (by the Satellite) while aerial photos are taken from the sky by airplanes. Because the distance between the ground is greater, satellite photos are good enough to recognize landscape and bigger architectures, but it is not as clear in detail as aerial photos.

Satellite image (left) vs Aerial Photo (right)

The Google team asked Japanese government for permission but they was not as cooperative as Google expected, so it took a while until Google was able to provide the first aerial photos.

In order to prevent this kind of mishaps, I will explain why you would need it.
The aerial photos are, of course, very useful for the victims and those worried to recognize how severe the damage was.
But it is not just that.

It will be used among the rescue team to recognize how they can approach the area of severe damage (e.g. which shore, which road, which landing points, etc.).
It will also be used among those rescue team to mark which areas are searched, etc.
Aerial photos can also be used by those people who are planning to build shelters.

Satellite photos may also help. But it is best, if you have clearer aerial photos.

Kawai has made a custom map with links to Satellite photos shared on Picasa

After the earthquake in 2011, Kei Kawai in Mountain View was perhaps, one of the first Japanese to receive GeoEye's satellite images of Tohoku after earthquake.
By then, Google was receiving request from Japanese media for satellite images of Fukushima, but he couldn't help himself from checking the image of coastal town in Minami Soma; his wife was from there. He was so surprise to see the coastline have shifted so much but was able to recognize her wife's house was still there after the tsunami.

These images were later used used on Google Earth but Google Earth is a gigantic complex system, and it will take time to update image, and it will take further time until everyone will be able to see the image.

But Kawai, knew some people want to use the images as soon as possible. So he picked some of the best satellite images, uploaded them to his Picasa image sharing service, then created a link on his Google MyMap.
This approach was invented by some Googlers in the UK, but Kawai took over their effort.
If someone click an area on that MyMap, the web browser would display the picture shared via Picasa.

Uploading the image to Picasa had a nice side effect. People concertned about particular area was able to form community through the comment area of Picasa exchanging information or even leaving a 'thank you' note to Google.

Because it would take time to update Google Earth and Google Maps, Kawai has uploaded Satellite photos on Picasa

Although Google wanted to take aerial photos immediately after the earthquake, because the Japanese government was not as cooperative, they had to wait for two weeks until they finally were able to start taking aerial photos; those photos were shared through Google Earth and Google Maps on March 31st, and the world saw how big the damage was.

While Kei Kawai and other Googlers were working hard to get clear photos of the damaged area in Tohoku, a Japanese car manufacturer, Honda was trying to spread an important information.

Honda has an advanced telematics services for their cars called Internavi since 1998.
One of the interesting feature of Internavi is that it can share the probe information with other Internavi users; i.e. you can share information about where your car is and how fast it is moving. With this information, driver of cars equipped with Internavi will know the average speed of cars on each streets across Japan.

Back in 2004, there was a big earthquake near Niigata Prefecture (Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake ) and Honda's Internavi team found another interesting use of car probe information; it will visualize which roads are not working.
If you have a big disaster, roads will be closed for landslides, for fallen trees, for tsunami, etc.
And those car heading to rescue the victims will waste great deal of time figuring out how they can approach the damaged area.
But Internavi team knew which roads are dead and which roads are alive because if a road is closed there will be no records of car probe on that road.
So in 2011, Internavi team of Honda has compiled a car probe data gathered from Internavi, compiled it as a KML file (a geographical data that can be overlayed on Google Earth) and shared it via Twitter.

Many people tried to connect the guy from Honda to people at Google (I was among the many who tried it). Later, they found each other and started a joint effort and ultimately, it has become part of the many Google Crisis Response service unique to Japan.

Honda Internavi car probe data mapped over Google Map (and offered as part of Google Crisis Response)

This information was so useful. One of my photographer friend check this info on his iPhone and drove all the way to Tohoku.

Kazuma Watanabe is a head of an NPO who helped so many after the earthquake; Kazuma arranged a few cars full of goods heading toward coastal area where Tsunami hit. In the mean time, he stayed in Sendai and was checking the probe information and directed which road his staffs should take through phone calls.

Let me walk through how these information can be useful in action.

Let's say, you are heading to Shiogama city through a coastal highway and check Google x Honda probe information. And then, you find people are avoiding the area around Sendai Airport and Natori river.
So I would open Google maps or Google Earth and check what's over there.
And you find the bridge over Natori river were taken down by the Tsunami and gone.

You found via probe information people are avoiding Natori River; you check the area with satellite image to find the bridge is gone

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年04月03日 | Permalink


academy hillsから送られてきた書類。










Image by Nikolai Sirotkin








投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年03月27日 | Permalink

Don't spread (never standardize on) bad designs such as USB

European Union, wake up!
It is 21st Century.
So don't spread bad design such as USB. It would create another century of plug/cable mess.

You shouldn't let computer manufacturers and chip manufacturers design connectors and cables. They just don't bother practicing a good design. USB is one example of that.

Before USB, we had FireWire (IEEE 1394) designed by Apple and Sony (the two exceptions of the bad-design industry). The connector of FireWire has a very distinctive shape, so the user could tell the orientation just by touching it (in the dark or behind the PC for example).

FireWire (IEEE 1394) designed by Apple+SONY had distinctive shape, so you can recognize the orientation just by touching

On the other hand, if you have a modern PCs with USB ports, you know what I mean ...
Maybe some of you have the super-power and never pushed the USB plugs up-side-down, but even if so, ask friends/family around you.
I am most certain that they keep repeating the same mistakes even as we speak now thanks to the carefully mal-designed USB plugs.

Of course, everybody person and organization makes mistakes, and you should give a chance to vindicate.
But in the case of USB? Haven't we done enough of that?
I think USB has produced generations of bad designs.

From the very first version of USB, you always have to look at the connector to tell which side is up.
Perhaps, the best design in USB history is the mini-USB port whose shape was a bit easier to distinguish.

mini USB port was perhaps the best design in USB history

And maybe because USB organization doesn't bother hiring a good designer, for the micro-USB, they just shrink the mini-USB design. But size 'does' matter. That design worked for mini-size but not for the micro-size.

Now it is a global habit for hundreds of millions of people around the world to waste time figuring out which side is up and which side is down; and thanks to the bad design, even when you are holding the cable in the correct orientation, sometime, it doesn't plug-in as smoothly as the lightning cable.

Apple, Inc. (with good designers) knew as the connectors become smaller, it would become hard to distinguish the orientation by the shape of connectors; and that is why they invented the 'lightning' cable which you can plug-in without bothering the correct orientation; you can hook the cable either way and it works.

Android users and Apple-hater should at least try the 'lightning' cable; you can still keep hating Apple, but I want you to become fair enough to distinguish a 'good design' in the area where 'bad design' has most penetration.

The mess with micro-USB doesn't end in the thoughtless connector shapes.
If you are an high-spec Android phone user, perhaps, you must know by now that you have to have a correct AC adapter and a correct cable to charge your phone.

While some old wall adapters only support 1 Ampere, to charge some of those high-spec Android phone, you have to have more than 2 Ampere (which by the way, is also a requisite to charge iPads).
And when you do that, you also have to have a correct micro-USB cables.
There are so many micro-USB cables that just doesn't charge those high-spec Android phones.

I wanted to write this article for so long but keep forgetting it, but today, I have decided to write it for two reasons:

1) yesterday, I had to bought a micro-USB cable because I needed to use my Android phone and it was out of battery. And that micro-USB cable didn't work.
2) in my friend's Facebook wall, I found a new Japanese gadget for those troubled by this charging problem

The gadget is called 'CHARGE DOCTOR' and if you hook it in between your charger or PC and microUSB cable, you will know if the cable is transmitting sufficient amperes (i.e. if that cable works).

beware manufactures claim there's cheaper copy product which shows incorrect measure

It is a perfect example of 'necessary evil' created thanks to the bad design of microUSB.

I don't want to anger the Apple haters, but if you allow me. In order not to create this kind of mess (with bad quality cables), Apple put a chip inside the 'lightning' plug and certifying proper cables with 'Made for iPhone' and 'Made for iPad' logo.
This is how you protect the good experience of your customers.

The connectors and cable todays are not the cables and connectors of the 1990s, it is transmitting incomparably high amount of data and electrical currencies and you need careful control of it.

But USB gangs are just defining the spec and let the other manufacturers create a mess; well, to be fair with them, there is also a 'certified USB' logo, but the USB created a culture where their distributors and customers go for the cheaper cables, etc.

I still hope, USB will do a better design job with their next generation connectors and cables, but re-creating the customer culture and brand recognition is not as easy.

European Union tries to standardize on micro-USB

Now, there is a third reason that I had to write this article.
European Union seem to have passed a law to force all manufacturers of smartphones to stick with the micro-USB port (they are not giving USB.org to try a better design) after 2017:

geek.com: Apple will be forced to use micro USB chargers by 2017

In the beginning of this post, I wrote 'you shouldn't let computer manufacturers and chip manufacturers design connectors and cables.'
But before that, we shouldn't let government or political union regulate 'connectors and cables.'
I know European countries had made a huge mistake by making the power plugs in Europe a chaos. And perhaps, this traumatic mistake leads to this new regulation for 'connectors and cables.' But don't!

Today, the market economy will decide the standard and it is more difficult to create another mess like the European power plugs. As a matter of fact, if you look at the smartphone market, there are basically two big standard setters: Apple and USB.

If you insist in regulating it, you have to go to Apple's design because EU includes UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and other countries that care for 'GOOD DESIGN."
But it is very unlikely, that Apple would open their standard. Even if they did, it will be awkward for Apple to certify competitors' phones. That's why you should 'not' regulate.

I believe designers in European countries should unite and fight this non-sense law.

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年03月25日 | Permalink









投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年03月20日 | Permalink

3.11からの教訓01: 災害時、ツイッターをいかにうまく使うか

(英語版ブログ: nobi.com/en の記事をグーグル翻訳で荒訳して校正、その上で一部、日本の読者用に追記/書き直しというプロセスで日本語化してみました)

そんな時、 3月11日に地震が起き、我々は絶望の淵へと落とされました。



投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年03月09日 | Permalink