iTrack: Technology and innovation in conflicts

7 Feb 2019 01:00h

Event report

The session was organised by some of the members of the iTrack project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme. Mr Bartel Van de Walle (TU Delft, Netherlands) moderated the session and introduced the iTrack project, saying that iTrack had been developed for over 2 ½ years by 12 partner organisations from 8 different countries and sectors such as universities, research centres, ICT companies, and humanitarian NGOs. Together they designed an open-source tracking and monitoring system that provides more safety to humanitarian aid workers and improves logistics performances in conflict areas. Van de Walle explained that the consortium worked on technical challenges such as the development of an encrypted communications system, as well as on the elaboration of high ethical standards to be taken into account at every step of the development of the tool.

Mr Militiadis Kritikos (Intrasoft, Greece) elaborated on the technical aspects of iTrack and introduced it as a set of modules that can be operated separately from each other. iTrack addresses mission planning, tracking, threat detection and reporting, re-routing, text and image transmission, security and encryption, offline operability and interoperability with other systems. He explained that the workers are equipped with mobile applications on their smartphones and that the vehicles are equipped with sensors. These systems are both interconnected and connected to the headquarters from which all operations can be monitored and tracked. Not only can the staff and vehicles be tracked but also the cargo, which is scanned and stowed away before being loaded onto the trucks. The system also provides a map in which threats can be flagged and on which distress signals of a convoy can be located. In cases of threats, the program can re-route the aid workers. The communication systems are encrypted. The encryption can, however, be deactivated in order to be compliant with local laws. Kritikos said that the system also works in areas without connectivity or a GPS signal, simply by relying on the sensors on the vehicles that allow threat detection and geolocation by scanning their surroundings and sending that information directly to the smartphones of the convoy staff. The application then links up with the server again when connectivity is restored. Finally, the system can include information obtained from Twitter and Live UA Maps.

Ms Julia Muraszkiewicz (Trilateral Research, UK) said that one of the elements setting iTrack apart from other projects was its privacy-by-design approach, as well as its ethical and sociocultural considerations. She explained the process in which ethics were discussed and how the respect of these considerations was monitored along the development of iTrack. These considerations involved questions whether staff should be filmed, whether relying on certain devices would put staff at risk and whether workers should be equipped with fitbits and smart devices to monitor their health.

Mr Gyöngyi Kovács (Hanken School of Economics, Finland) spoke about possible difficulties with mapping, which may be caused by shelling, roadblocks, and other obstacles. He mentioned that the advantage of the system was its two-way communication with the headquarters, which allows for more informed decision-making on the ground and in the command centre. Additionally, he said that the system was also able to do inventory management, calculate range based on fuel consumption and other basic but very necessary elements for improved aid delivery. Kovács further noted that they had developed a board game allowing logisticians to work as teams in simulated environments in order to get acquainted with the system.

Ms Abby Onencan (TU Delft, Netherlands) explained that different policies were developed for the good use of the different modules, and also to prepare workers with potential dilemmas they might face by using the software. For this reason, the team is developing a comprehensive handbook to improve decision-making. Information on how to best handle potentially challenging situations was also collected from the audience through a questionnaire.