Singapore company and Indonesian university develop mobile app to crowdsource haze data

Mr Paul Teng (left), CEO of SixCap, and Dr Trias Aditya from Gadjah Mada University. SixCap and Gadjah Mada University have been working together to develop a mobile app to crowdsource haze data.
Mr Paul Teng (left), CEO of SixCap, and Dr Trias Aditya from Gadjah Mada University. SixCap and Gadjah Mada University have been working together to develop a mobile app to crowdsource haze data. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

JAKARTA - When the haze season comes around again next year, the public can be counted on to tackle it together.

SixCap, A Singapore digital company, and Indonesia's Gadjah Mada University have been working together since early this year to develop a mobile app to crowdsource real-time data on forest fires and haze in Indonesia.

Users can send photographs showing haze or land and forest fires to the app, key in their locations, and rate how bad the haze is on a scale of 1 to 10, Mr Paul Teng, 28, SixCap co-founder and group chief executive told The Straits Times. Those who live in remote areas with poor telecommunication coverage can also send the data via SMS texts.

"This is still a prototype. We'll be doing a field test," he said, adding that he hopes the app can be launched "by next July", when the dry season typically starts.

This "collective effort" will act as an early warning haze system and help the Indonesian government douse the flames and stop the spread of haze, he said.

"It's not just an Indonesian issue but Asean issue as it affects everyone around," he told The Straits Times.

"A lot of online chatter is always targeted at Indonesia, like 'It's your fault and go solve your problem as it is affecting us'. Instead of finger pointing at one another, we should be collaborating and try to solve this problem together," he said.

Millions in South-east Asia including Singapore were affected by thick smoke from the fires that covered many parts of the region in the second half of last year.

Arrests of fire setters, along with other preventive measures by the government and more favourable weather conditions, have helped to keep the number of hotspots lower this year.

Dr Trias Aditya, 41, from the university's department of geodetic engineering, said the current satellite photographs used by the authorities to detect hotspots are of low resolution.

"Anything can be detected as haze," he said, including small fire-related problems. "It can be all the people in a kampong cooking together and you (have) smoke, yet that can be detected as hotspot," he said.

"We need the crowd as a means to mobilise people on the ground to tackle it together, to improve the accuracy of the satellite data," he added.

The collaboration was announced at an industry dialogue session at the two-day Indonesia Economic Forum, which kicked off in Jakarta on Monday (Nov 14).

The business conference, which focuses on digital innovation, brings together more than 700 business leaders, policy makers and industry experts. Speeches by senior Indonesian officials including Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution and panel discussions are expected on Tuesday.

Forum founder Shoeb Kagda said the collaboration on the haze app is a "very important partnership" to illustrate how the government, civil society, academics and businesses can work together.

"The good thing about this, you are really using the crowd power. So it's the crowd itself that is uploading information," he told The Straits Times.

He added: "So that's the whole point about (the) digital economy. We need to engage the crowd, but you need the technology."

aarlina@sph.com.sg