The team used consensus to select Vermont and Flooding as the events they would research. The team reached these decisions by prioritizing local experts and experiences. Parts of Vermont were devastated following Tropical Storm Irene and the team felt that these wounds would make information easier to access and problems more readily available.
The team contacted close to a dozen experts in order to learn more about flooding. Jenn Kimimch, from the Alchemist, agreed to meet the team. She is a co-owner of the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont, which was destroyed by the flooding. She changed her business model after the flood and learned that flood insurance does not cover items in a basement. She lost nearly $500,000 as a result of losses from the storm. She explained that she closed the brewery for the night believing that she would lose power. However, the flooding prevented her from returning for several weeks. When she returned, she discovered that her community was covered in human waste, toxic chemicals and storm debris. She explained that she saw oil tanks and trees floating through town. She also explained that she had to wear a hazmat suit to remove items from her basement. Jenn discusses a number of problems she faced in the storm and suggested that the team consider an insurance app or a robot to help with debris removal.
The team also met with Tom Messner, the Head Meteorologist for WCAX. Tom explained that Irene was difficult to forecast because the amount of water in the ground and falling from the sky is difficult to know. He explained that there are very few weather stations in Vermont so the fine details are difficult to know. He encouraged the team to explore a crowd sourcing weather app that would allow local users to submit the local temperature, humidity and so on. He also thought it would be good for the app to allow users to submit pictures of their locations to illustrate flooding.
The team finally met with a Colonel from the US Army, who participated in a number of emergency responses, including Irene and Katrina. He explained that the military responds after a civilian government has requested help. He went on to explain that people are not ready for storms and that it make take days or weeks for help to arrive. He explained that the most important thing in a storm is preparation. People need to be self-reliant until help can arrive. He shared some pamphlets from ready.gov and explained that September was “Get Ready” month.
The team discussed the pros and cons of each idea and decided. The team decided against the insurance app because they were not passionate about possessions. The team decided against the storm debris removal robot because there were other robots and it was beyond their current skills to build a prototype. The team decided against the weather app but had good plans to develop the app. The team decided to write a storm preparation game because they thought that changing attitudes about storm preparation would be the most important thing because it could save lives. Several members of the team had experience writing programs in Scratch so the team was confident they could complete the game and share it with the public.
The team set-out to write a game in Scratch that would emphasize the stages of surviving a flood: preparation, moving to safety, evacuating. The team brainstormed a list of games and decided to use classic video games from the 1980’s because those games were simple to program. The first stage was inspired by Pac Man and requires the user to move through a maze finding resources for a storm preparation kit, such as food, water and maps. Once this level is completed, the user moves into a level that was based on donkey kong. The user runs up a series of ladders and avoids the rising waters to get to their safety spot to wait for the flooding to stop. The final stage is similar to Frogger, where the user needs to move across a stage avoiding floating trees and oil barrels.
The first version of the game is at this link:
This is their presentation slide show.
The team conducted research using the internet to determine that the Colonel was correct and that most Americans are not prepared for a storm. The team also learned that many game designers are using gaming to change peoples attitudes about things. The team decided that there was reason to proceed with the game as a solution to storm preparation. The team also took some time to develop a surveymonkey survey to evaluate whether the game did or did not change peoples attitudes about storm preparation.
Links for the surveys are here:
The team completed a project board and presented their solution at the 2013 Maker Faire. Hundreds of people attended the fair and virtually all of them visited our presentation. The team installed a field table most of the tasks in place. The team also brought a trial version of their current robot design and demonstrated how to solve several of the tasks. The team also displayed the computer program and explained their project. The team participated in shifts so everyone took some time to present.
Check out the newspaper article on the team that ran in The Other Paper
Preliminary feed-back of the game design indicated that the team should develop a single character for all of the levels. The team also felt that they should add some images from Irene when a user is not successful at a particular stage. The team hopes to get their game written in a different language for distribution on the app store.