Fisherman’s son creates mobile app to help dad

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Thursday, October 11, 2012


WHEN Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) decided to mount its first-ever HTML5 Hackathon in Davao City instead of Cebu or Metro Manila last July, it was looking forward to what the Mindanao developer community can offer in terms of trailblazing mobile applications.

Winning the “Best Use of Smart APIs” was the team of Rolly Rulete, who developed a full-blown version of Project NOAH for mobile using HTML5, a programming language that allows mobile app development across Web platforms.

Launched last July, Project NOAH or Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards is a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation. Under this initiative, government, in partnership with companies like Smart, pooled resources to improve disaster management capacity of local governments units (LGUs) using current disaster science research and development projects, and the latest technologies.

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After four hours in a hackathon, Rolly’s group built a mobile and sleek version of Project NOAH with Doppler radar layers, rain probability overlays, Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) plots and HTML5 features such as geo-location and app-cache for offline browsing.

“We conceptualized it to use Smart LBS (location-based services) and HTML5 geo-location API (application programming interface) to determine the user’s location and display relevant weather info from Project NOAH,” Rolly said.

Rolly grew up in the fishing village of Bonggaitan and the market-site district of Mangagoy in Surigao del Sur’s Bislig City.

As a child, he would anxiously watch his father head towards the open sea. He would pray not only that his father would have a good catch but that he would also return home safely each time.

Greatest risk

“My father, cousins and neighbors are mostly fishermen, which is why it is very important for me to keep them safe and to do that, I have to know everything there is to know about the weather, which poses the greatest risk to them,” said Rolly.

He recalled those times when their father would take them along for deep-sea fishing and they needed to stay at least one night so far at out sea you could no longer see even the mountains.

It was then that he realized the hardship his father had to go through as a fisherman and his vulnerability at times of weather disturbances like low pressure areas.

“Weather is a very crucial aspect of fishing. The fishermen are the first ones affected by weather disturbances because they are out at sea,” said Rolly.

53-year-old Mamerto Rulete was a fisherman through and through. As an elementary pupil, he had to stop schooling to help his father boost the family income with their small-scale fish cages called bonsod because he has 11 other siblings and only two of them are boys.

When Mang Mamer turned 16, he forayed into a more lucrative but more difficult and dangerous venture on small-scale, deep-sea fishing.

Married to Nenita Flores, Mang Mamer fathered four boys and one girl with Rolly as the second eldest child. He was the sole breadwinner and raised his family with his meager income from fishing.

Fortunately, three of his children, including Rolly, qualified for Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholarships. The eldest, Ricky, graduated BS Mathematics cum laude. Rolly’s passion for computers and the field of information technology prompted him to take up Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, while a younger brother is now an electronics and communications engineer. His only sister, Maria Theresa, took up BS Information Technology, while the youngest, Romer, is still in school taking up BS Computer Science. All of them studied at the University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao City.

Rolly said had he not been a scholar, he might not have had a chance to study in Davao since his father’s income would not have been enough to cover the expenses of his college education and living allowances.

“Our DOST scholarships provided us assistance and were really helpful for students like me that came from poor families,” said Rolly.

Returning favor

Rolly said apart from helping his dad and the rest of the fishing community where he grew up, he is merely returning the favor to DOST, which sent him and two of his siblings to college. While he has already complied with the DOST requirement of working in the country for the period equivalent to the number of years of their scholarship, he has opted to stay here even as more lucrative job offers await him abroad.

“I always have this passion for helping people. The mobile weather application that I have developed is my contribution to the country. I am also returning the favor to DOST, which developed the Project Noah website. The mobile app would complement it,” said Rolly.

When he first tried accessing Project NOAH on his mobile phone, many of the images won’t fit in the screen and the menu was hard to navigate. He thought of developing a mobile version of the site.

But given the constraints of the mobile phone in terms of memory and battery usage, Rolly said not all features currently available on the Project NOAH website would be made available on the mobile app like the flood map.

“When you talk about the weather, it really is all about the location, where you or your family is located. Most of the time, you’re just interested on whether it’s going to rain or not where you currently are,” said Rolly.

“We need to put in information that is concise, highlighting only the ones that are relevant to the user’s location,” he said.

Android app

The son of a fisherman is now a software engineer and web/mobile app developer, empowered by technology to keep his father safe. He started giving his father weather updates by getting information from various weather agency websites such as Pag-asa, Japan Meteorological Agency and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

“If there are incoming weather disturbances like a developing low pressure area or typhoon, I will immediately call or text my father to warn him and his fellow fishermen about the danger,” said Rolly.

So when he learned mobile application development, he created and developed a native Android app called ‘PH Weather’ that features all information related to weather.

“When I heard about Project NOAH, I was really amazed how the information and the images can really help people, particularly the fishermen,” said Rolly.

He was particularly interested in the Doppler radars that are featured on the website.

The Doppler radar in Hinatuan Station shows the incoming cloud patterns for his hometown, Bislig City.

“I really wanted it to be available in smartphones. So I studied it and started to make the Doppler radar images conveniently accessible on my Android phone,” enthused Rolly.

He is developing a native Android prototype version of Project NOAH, which he hopes to
release to the public in partnership with Smart.

Now, Rolly is more confident he could keep his father, his cousins and neighbors safe not only through prayers but also through the weather mobile application that he has created. (PR)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 12, 2012.

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