University partnership builds geomatics and human skills

August 7th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

Following two weeks of collaborative geo-app development for community upliftment, the University of Pretoria’s 2017 Winter School on Participatory Sensing concluded on 4 August 2017 with student presentations.

The exchange programme, now in its third year, forms part of the Geomatics and Participation project in which the University of Pretoria (UP)’s Centre for Geoinformation Science in South Africa has partnered with the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (HsKA) in Baden-Württemberg in Germany.

The programme responds to the skill needs for geo-(infor)maticians in both countries by having students from both institutions collaborate on projects that also promote citizen participation through the use of geomatics. This year seven UP students hosted seven Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences students, with UP coordinator Prof. Serena Coetzee and HsKA coordinator Prof. Dr. Gertrud Schaab directing the programme with help from assistants.

Student participants, with the programme coordinators and assisting staff members behind them, as well as Dr. Lisette Andreae, the German Embassy's Head of Science and Education (back row left).

Student participants, with the programme coordinators and assisting staff members behind them, as well as Dr. Lisette Andreae, the German Embassy’s Head of Science and Education (back row left).

Divided into three groups, the students set out to develop mobile phone apps that employ geo-principles to help citizens of the Alaska Informal Settlement in Mamelodi East. Prior to creating the apps, students visited and explored the area to gain an understanding and identify issues in need of solutions.

The lack of a formal addressing systems, along with the limited number of devices were two of the biggest challenges they had to overcome. The GPS accuracy of mobile phones were another consideration to work around.

Two of the apps were built for community users: One group developed a panic button app which sends a geo-tagged notification to emergency responders in the community who receive it on a dual app. A second group developed an app for users to report and map hazardous areas such as slopes, rubbish dumps or areas with open electric wires, in an attempt to provide safe passage for the app’s users. A third app was developed with UP’s architectures students as its intended users, enabling them to map social nodes to study the social dynamics of the settlement.

The apps were built using different open source software, including PHP, Leaflet, GeoServer and PostGIS.

In the process students learned the importance of collaboration and working to deadlines, and also had the opportunity to improve their coding skills and explore multi-disciplinary approaches to problem solving. The international collaboration also exposed students to knowledge sharing.

Victoria Rautenbach (assistant), Prof. Serena Coetzee (coordinator), Sybil Adams (assistant), Prof. Paul Sumner (HoD Geography) and Prof. Dr. Gertrud Schaab.

Victoria Rautenbach (assistant), Prof. Serena Coetzee (coordinator), Sybil Adams (assistant), Prof. Paul Sumner (HoD Geography) and Prof. Dr. Gertrud Schaab.

Prof. Dr. Schaab said it offered lecturers another perspective on their students in a more social setting. Visiting students also got to experience the local culture and foods like a braai, potjiekos and spatlho, and went on outings to attractions such as the Rhino and Lion Park.

Prof. Paul Sumner, head of the UP Geography Department, also attended the presentations, and commended students on their innovative solutions, and for exposing geospatial’s broad potential to other disciplines.

The winter school follows the 2016 summer school that was held in Germany. At the closing ceremony students also received certificates from the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung, the foundation which funds the programme. The initiative also aims to establish long-term collaboration between the two universities in South Africa and Germany.

Subscribe to our leading email newsletters

FREE-OF-CHARGE

CLICK for other EE Publishers information products