Tele-Panchayat : Concept to Prototype

I moved away from a dedicated device to using a public pay-phone. The PCO phone (Public Call Office phones) are prevalent in India. They have most of the technology required to build a system which I have thought. They have a small display, buttons for input and audio output. People are quite familiar with using a phone and do not need to learn something new, the interaction is simple. The audio based interfacing also takes out the problem of illiteracy.
I had to think about a feature for avoiding double voting by a single person. There are many different technologies / methods that can be used to do this. Most common things are passwords, PIN (Personal Identification Number), physical cards, keys etc. But for all these technologies to really be secure, they have to be combined with something else. So, there is username and Password, A physical card and a PIN and so on. But all these things require a person either to carry a physical artifact or to remember a combination of words and numbers. People forget numbers and loose cards.
What could be as easy as making a phone in terms of user verification? And I though of biometric identification. It is easy to use, not like something which you can lose or forget. Illiterate people use thumb impressions as their signature, they are already familiar with this notion and interaction of identification through fingerprint. There are many advantages and disadvantages for biometric verification but in this context the advantages seem to be more than disadvantages.
For some time now Indian government is trying to implement UID (Unique Identification), for this they are scanning all ten fingers of hands and both the retinas. It intends to shift all the service to single ID such as drivers license, voter ID, banking etc. and use biometrics for user identification.
So let us look at the interaction now. There are just 4 easy steps that a person has to follow.
1. Dial a particular number assigned for this service (Toll free and a short number like 1234)
2. Scan the registered finger / thumb
3. Listen to the question being asked regarding a proposal or an issue.
4. Register your opinion by either voting Yes (Press 1) or No (Press 0)
Parallel to this similar system could exist on the mobile phone. Below we can see the steps that a person has to take to enable his basic mobile to be used for the system.
1. User dials a number for mobile registration service.
2. Scans his finger / thumb to be verified
3. Enters his mobile number
4. User receives a PIN on his mobile
5. Enter that PIN on the pay-phone
After this the mobile phone is registered for the particular user. The user then can make a call to the toll free number, enter the PIN for verification, listen to the question and vote Yes / No. Here, double verification is done by using the phone number as username and PIN as a password.
Then I briefly looked at the overall system. It is not in any way completely figured out but I had some thoughts around it. The questions could be identified and put forward by the ward corporator. This question could be conveyed in many different methods and channel depending on the context.
It could be done by community based radio which was designed at Frugal Digital called LoVoCo (Top left image in the picture below). The radio broadcasts on a short range of 1-2 km and uses an android phone to do so. People calling on that phone could get their message broadcast as well. This could create an audio forum with lively discussions.
Many cities and towns in India also have blackboards installed for small communities  (Bottom left image in the picture below). These are usually placed by political parties to promote their agenda. People have started using these boards for different purposes like writing some news, congratulating someone, announcements and notices. So, these type of boards also could be used to convey the question for the communities and pros and cons of the decisions could be discussed on the same board.
Thirdly, we have seen in the research post the people advertise through inserting pamphlets in the daily newspapers (Right image in the picture below). These pamphlets are cheap for manufacturing and easy to be distributed. They reach directly to the user's doorstep. These pamphlets could have the question with the pros and cons. It could also have the results of the earlier poll graphically represented on them.
The results are published through same channels as well as everything is archived on a web-page without any human intervention.
There were few days left for the final presentation and evaluation so I started to prototype. I found a used pay-phone on a second hand product sell website in Denmark. I brought it to the electronics lab and opened it to see if I could use the original parts as the phone was in a working condition. At least that is what the seller said, I never got the chance to start it because we did not have the plug for the pin that the phone had and the owner has to register to telecommunication department of Denmark in order to use the phone.
There was nothing that I could use in the phone due to my lack of understanding of electronics to figure out how it all worked just by looking at the circuit board. With 3-4 days left in my hand, I decided to scrap the whole thing and create my own hardware using Arduino.
So basically I created all the buttons, bought an LCD that could fit in the slot for existing LCD display and connected the speaker from the hand receiver to the audio jack of my laptop. At this point of time I did not have to prototype a fingerprint scanner so I used a system of entering PIN for user verification but after the presentation I mocked the interaction of fingerprint scanner by using a force sensor. I sketched two programs, one for Arduino which communicated with the board to register key presses and displaying appropriate messages on the LCD and another for Processing which displayed the question on the computer screen along with the results which were updated every time someone voted. The processing sketch was also playing the appropriate audio tracks in the receiver depending the user interaction. So, there was communication happening between these to programs which brought the prototype to life.
Finally it was ready a day before the presentation. Still buggy and easy to crash but it conveyed the interaction and experience very well. I got some time to make others in the studio give it try and fixed few finer issues before the final presentation. I will talk about the presentation, feedback and next steps in the following post.

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