Video Transcript


Finding Inspiration in Apps on Earth Day

Earth Day inspires millions of people around the world to take action on behalf of our beautiful planet. For some, this means getting out and volunteering for a day with an environmental group. For others, it’s about changing our daily habits to be more mindful about things like recycling, driving, or water usage. But a growing sector is taking earth-friendly action at scale. From nonprofits to NGOs to green businesses, visionary entrepreneurs are using modern technology to address Planet Earth’s very modern problems.

I often work with Heroku customers to help them share their story with the world. Along the way, I find myself constantly inspired by so many innovative apps that change lives in so many ways. This Earth Day, I took a look back at a few environment-themed customer stories that have crossed my desk. Each approach the topic from very different angles: clean water access, disaster relief, data-driven predictive models, and sustainable food production.



Nearly 663 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water—that’s one in ten people on the planet. Lack of safe water and basic sanitation causes 80% of diseases and more deaths every year than any form of violence, including war. Founded in 2006, charity: water works to reduce these numbers to zero in our lifetime by funding clean water projects like new wells and systems for water filtration and sanitation.

To boost their infrastructure projects, charity: water uses the best of modern technology and develops innovative apps running on Heroku. Their water monitoring dispatch app aggregates water flow data from sensors in the field, tracks and monitors usage, and helps inform the organization’s sustainability initiatives. The app also captures survey and maintenance data from field staff and helps them better manage logistics and operations.

Here at home, charity: water operates a peer-to-peer fundraising platform, with 100% of funds going directly to water projects. Got a birthday coming up? Why not run your own campaign and invite friends to give the ultimate gift to those who need it most—clean water.

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In August 2018, the southern Indian state of Kerala experienced the worst flood in nearly a century. Unusually heavy monsoon rainfall had overwhelmed the local dams and water systems. Hundreds of people lost their lives and nearly a million were evacuated. In the midst of the chaos, one developer kept his cool and saw an opportunity to use his skills to help.

In collaboration with others from his college, Bizwas got straight to work on a Django web app that would allow refugees and camps to specify their needs, like water or medicine, and coordinate volunteer efforts. In a mission-critical scenario where every minute matters, Heroku’s free plan enabled Bizwas to get his MVP live in barely 14 hours with git push heroku master as his mantra.

The requests for aid poured in, not only for supplies but also to rescue people who were still in danger. As word about the app spread, developers around the world offered to help extend the app and an open source community was born. The app’s data was also put to work as other organizations used it to inform their own disaster relief studies and initiatives.

A year later, the KeralaRescue app serves a model for what can be accomplished by a few dedicated technicians in the face of nature’s toughest challenges.

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Data science and machine intelligence can help make the world a better place—for all beings. DrivenData partners with social impact and environmental organizations to explore their data sets. They invite the global data science community to help address tough challenges by submitting their best predictive models or algorithms to a competition platform on Heroku. Some of the winners become open source tools to help others drive positive change.

One of their recent environmental projects focused on helping researchers, conservationists, and park managers better monitor wildlife. Camera traps in the wild capture photos and videos whenever animals pass by. But it takes hours to manually sift through such a massive amount of footage, including false positives, to identify animals.

DrivenData partnered with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and hosted a competition to help automate this process. Data scientists from over 90+ countries drew on more than 300,000 video clips to train machine learning models. The winning computer vision algorithm became Zamba, an open source Python package that identifies 23 animals in video data, and Zamba Cloud a ready-to-use web tool running on Heroku. The project makes it easier for wildlife experts to advance the impact of their work.

Interested in data science? Check out DrivenData’s current lineup of open competitions and submit your best solution.

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Freight Farms

Consumers demand locally grown, sustainably produced food with minimal impact to the environment. But for many of us city dwellers, “local” food may still have to travel hundreds of miles to get to our plates. The founders of Freight Farms re-imagined urban farming and created a mobile indoor growing environment that could be placed in any open space within a city or suburb. This makes it easier for anyone to be a farmer and efficiently produce food at scale within their own community.

The company’s flagship product—the Greenery—is a hydroponic farm built inside a 40’x8’ upcycled shipping container, making it inherently self-contained and mobile. What makes Freight Farms a truly modern food enterprise is the technology behind the farm. Each of their farm units is connected to the company’s IoT network and apps running on Heroku. Their farmhand platform allows farmers to easily monitor and fine-tune their operations in real time, as well as order supplies when needed.

Freight Farms’ “green-tech” approach to agriculture helps increase yields and decrease impact on the environment, keeping local food production truly “local.”

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I hope these remarkable stories have inspired you too. Maybe you’ll take some simple steps for Earth Day, or maybe you’ll develop your own apps for good. Wherever your inspiration leads you, I wish you a Happy Earth Day!

Originally published: April 22, 2019

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