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an NFC enabled system for assimilating refugees
Concept Ideation
Poster Design

For many refugees, arriving into the United States serves as a major relief to the difficult lives they lead in their home countries. Unfortunately, there is a significant lack of tools and support systems in place for them to properly adjust to their new lives and they often become significantly disadvantaged. Lantern is a platform based on NFC-enabled SIM cards, designed for refugees to provide support for each other as they adapt to a new country.
“With your case worker, you are free to ask him anything. Because he's like your parent, like your father, like your mother, like your everything.”
Case workers are often the only source of support for refugees. They constantly deal with alleviating barriers refugees face from fundamental differences such as language, education, culture, and technological literacy to task related obstacles such as buying groceries, going to the doctor, or even taking public transportation. This leaves case workers overburdened with helping refugees. We needed to find a way to alleviate the strain and allow case workers to help refugees more effectively.

For our research and problem scoping, we took advantage of the unusually large and richly diverse refugee population in Pittsburgh. We also conducted ethnographic research with a 7-member refugee family.

The collective group of individuals we interviewed carried expert knowledge for refugee groups from Bhutan, Nepal, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, China, and The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
refugee/caseworker refugee/caseworker refugee/caseworker refugee/caseworker
Upon arriving, refugees are given feature phones as their sole form of communication. As is, these phones are severely limited in function, but because they were such an essential tool by nature, we decided to explore ways which we could modify and enhance the use of these phones.
We found that combining near field communications (NFC) with previous generation technology enables the ability to transfer data in the form of text messages, audio messages, and images.
Lantern Diagram
Our goal became creating a platform that could communicate information to refugees that helped them navigate their environment in situ. By assigning information to inexpensive NFC chips and appropriately placing them around the local area through Lantern branded stickers, refugees can use their phones to access help from these stickers. Through this system, refugees can leave pieces of advice from what they’ve learned for other incoming refugees.

To even further support this solution, in 2011, the GSMA had announced that NFC-enabled SIM cards would become a global standard, underlining the practicality of Lantern as a tool.

Once we scoped out the medium of our solution, we wanted to apply this technology to create the most impact on the refugees' transition.
Inspired by the stories we heard from interviewing refugees and caseworkers, we discovered several common problems refugees face when first arriving.
Our affinity diagram included all of the problems identified through our research - we identified major themes and root causes in order to understand where we can make the most impact.
Affinity Diagram
We ideated over 50 design ideas, synthesizing them according to impact and feasibility, and validated our chosen solutions to resettlement workers and refugees.
Impact & Feasability Matrix
Finally, we chose a few primary use cases to describe the spaces in which our system can operate.

A common problem we observed that all new refugees seem to have is the ability to use public transportation. Many of the refugees we spoke to spent years (sometimes decades) in refugee camps in underdeveloped countries, so unsurprisingly, public bus systems are alien to many of them. Combined with the lack of English skills, many refugees are unable to make use of this vital resource.


Refugees can access Lantern stickers at bus stops to obtain key route information, including destinations, bus numbers, and departure and arrival times. A sticker at every bus stop would create a "real-time," ad-hoc navigation system.

Using transportation using Lantern
We also learned that refugees are required to have regular medical checkups. Caseworkers schedule these appointments for refugees, but refugees often miss them for a variety of reasons, including difficulty navigating through unfamiliar buildings. Because the doctors' offices don't notify caseworkers of missed appointments, caseworkers do not realize that their clients have missed mandated doctors visits.
Medical Visits

Upon arrival to a facility, a Lantern sticker can display a map to the correct office. Once there, the refugee scans another sticker that notifies the caseworker of the check in. At the end of the week, a list of those individuals who have not checked in can be obtained, allowing the caseworker to reschedule appointments as needed.

Medical checkups within the Lantern system
& What I found really cool
We were granted $1000 by CMU's Graduate Student Assembly to represent our school at the Computer-Human Interaction conference in Seoul, Korea. It was awarded second place by an international panel of judges in the CHI 2015 Student Design Competition.
Poster presentation at CHI 2015

Poster presentation at CHI 2015

City of Asylum

This was a very exciting design challenge for me. While every user group has their individual qualities, I think that refugees are a particularly intriguing group to look at. From their perspective, they are in a fundamentally unfamiliar environment, and thus, I had to look at my own surroundings in an entirely different way. I began noticing things that I usually took for granted, like building signage and my reliance on smartphone apps.

We also were very lucky that Pittsburgh harbored a lot of refugees. Some took shelter in a community called the City of Asylum, where ostracized artists from countries of strife had a safe haven to practice their art. It was an incredible experience walking around their houses and interviewing the community leaders.

This project gave me a fresh understanding of international design. In first world countries, design strives for "intuitive" interface design, but the "intuitive" part is only culturally relative, and that there are fundamental differences in the way we interpret design because of culture. It makes me wonder what other fundamental aspects of life influences interpretation of interface design.