Our inspiration

Imagine cup 2011

About 800 million of illiterate people are excluded from the benefits of text messaging. Most of them reside in rural areas in which mobile phone coverage and ownership is growing rapidly and SMS are cheap or even free.


Our inspiration started during one of our courses at EPFL: "Personal interaction studio". We had to create a prototype of a mobile application which could help illiterate people in their every-day life. We received interviews conducted in India by researchers from EPFL’s Media and Design lab with farmers as part of the common sense net 2.0 project, which is funded by Cooperation@EPFL and the Swiss development agency (SDC). The interviews evolved around the main problems rural farmers are facing. We also watched lots of videos about the life in rural areas there.

Later, we visited a school for illiterate people in Switzerland: "Lire et écrire” and met illiterate people and their teachers. We interviewed a number of them and realized that none of the existing mobile technologies were suitable for them - since almost all phone’s menus are based on "text".

A woman from Morocco was particularly touching. She arrived in Lausanne five years ago, she didn't know how to speak French and she was illiterate. Her daughter was still in Morocco. She missed her daughter a lot: "It is very hard for me to keep in touch with her, I cannot go back to Morocco very often because flights are expensive. The only way for me to hear from her is to call her. I call her every Sunday at 3pm. However, it is very expensive and not very convenient for all of us because we need to cancel all the plans we have every Sunday in order to call each other."

We wondered if she would like to send SMS to her daughter and she immediately answered: "I would love to. But it is far too complicated for me... If I could send her only 'I miss you', it would be wonderful..."

Moreover, for almost all the people we interviewed, it was impossible to manage a contact list on their mobile phones: they identified people through their previous calls, the last two digits of the phone numbers or the country codes of the phone numbers.

We discovered that just near us, in one of the richest country of the world, some people were excluded from modern communication means by their illiteracy and could not benefit from the same opportunities as we. These encounters raised our awareness about the needs illiterates have. From this time, we decided to create an easy application with which illiterate people could send SMSs and manage their contacts without any problem."


Personal interaction studio course at EPFL