An app that is designed to help victims of conflict organize their own first response is bringing another dose of international attention to Clemson University.
P2PR2P was among five projects to win funding through a European Commission-connected program, NGIatlantic.eu Open Calls. The award comes a little more than a year after a prototype of the app was showcased at the Paris Peace Forum, a conference whose attendees included French president Emmanuel Macron.
The app was conceived by the French non-governmental organization Danaides. An interdisciplinary group of Clemson faculty and students created the app to securely connect civilians in conflict- and natural-disaster zones with people who can provide food, medicine, transportation and other aid.
The Clemson team is partnering on the app with France’s Institut d’études politiques de Toulouse and the project’s lead, Danaides.
The award will allow Danaides to verify the security, privacy and trust aspects of the app, said Richard Brooks, a professor in Clemson’s Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“The award gives us more visibility,” said Brooks, who is also chief technology officer for Danaides. “Also, the support for the verification allows us to do the alpha and beta testing and then start fielding the app in Chad for use by a legal collective fighting violence against women and children.”
Danaides will do its verification work on the FABRIC Testbed, which enables a wide range of computer engineering and network research. K.C. Wang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clemson, is a co-principal investigator on the testbed, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
“We look forward to collaborating with Danaides, Dr. Brooks and his students to help them advance P2PR2P,” Wang said. “The FABRIC Testbed is the ideal research infrastructure to meet their needs.”
News of the grant was warmly welcomed by Danaides co-founders Felix Blanc and Stephanie Lamy.
“This grant will allow us to continue our work with Clemson University’s faculty and students on P2PR2P,” Blanc and Lamy said in a joint statement. “We look forward to deploying this app in the field, where it will empower local civil society in some of the world’s most challenging environments.”
The Clemson team is also working to build a new function into the app that would allow it to collect information. It will show when and where the information was collected and who collected it and include protections against tampering, Brooks said.
“It’s so you can prove the correctness and so that the app is more trustworthy,” he said.
The current version of the app is in English, and it will be also available in French and Arabic.
While many of the students who have worked on the app have computer engineering and computer science backgrounds, its development has been an interdisciplinary effort.
Caitlin O’Loughlin worked on the app while pursuing her Ph.D. in economics at Clemson. She graduated in June 2020 and is still on the team as a volunteer.
“This is research I’m doing on my own time because I’m interested and passionate about the project,” O’Loughlin said. “Stephanie and Richard are both wonderful people and make the project really exciting. It’s always fun for me to contribute.”
Once the app is ready for deployment, users will be vetted to ensure they are trustworthy and then sent a link to download the app. Users will be able to rate each other’s trustworthiness similar to how drivers and passengers rate each other on Uber.
Users trust scores will be evaluated according to their compliance with community rules.
When the app is opened, users can tap “ask” or “offer” and scroll through a menu of five categories that include goods, funds, transport, services and information.
Brooks said he expects many of the connections will be between communities living in troubled areas and expatriates who have left and are living elsewhere.
Hai Xiao, chair of the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said that support for the app is well deserved.
“P2PR2P brings together a number of Clemson University programs and partnerships to advance research and education across several disciplines,” Xiao said. “Dr. Brooks, Danaides and his students are not only advancing technology but also raising Clemson’s profile on the international stage and empowering some of the globe’s most in-need populations.”
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