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Harvard University President’s Innovation Challenge 2019 Candidate


Kickpoint is a low-power, low-cost device that helps people communicate after disasters when the infrastructure they typically rely on is down.

Kickpoint was a group project for the Master in Design Engineering studio course at Harvard. I worked on a team with two other students from my program.


Problem Statement: After a disaster, people will expect to rely on an infrastructure that no longer exists.



  • No power

  • No GPS

  • No cellular phone

    infrastructure (for 1-10 yrs)

  • No capital investments

  • Individually deployable


Every year, over a hundred million people feel the effects of natural disasters. As stated by the World Health Organization, these disasters “often result in the destruction of the physical, biological and social environment of the affected people, thereby having a longer-term impact on their health, well-being and survival.”

After natural disasters strike, people have no way of communicating to their loved ones and cannot coordinate ways to rebuild or receive aid. There is no electric grid and cell phone service to allow for communication and mobility. This example may seem extreme, but after Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria in September 2018, communities were left without power for over 9 months, with some regions still struggling to rebuild today.


Who is our user?

Our users are 100 million people that are affected by natural disasters annually, but our customers are the communities that are planning for or have already experienced disasters. These communities can plan to purchase a set of Kickpoint devices, each around $200, and a set of cards, each around $1, to ensure resiliency. For FY2019, Boston has an budget of $39.9 million for public safety and $15.7 million for Government Effectiveness (Fire Department, Public Health, etc). In comparison, the federal government spent $160 billion on Hurricane Katrina and $180 billion on Hurricane Harvey.

User interviews & USER PERSONA

We conducted a series of interviews with fellow graduate students, undergraduate students and local Boston residents. Our research questions included:

  1. What would you do immediately in the aftermath of a large natural disaster?

  2. Do you have a plan in the event of a natural disaster? What is it?

  3. Who would be the first people you would try to contact? How?

  4. What is the role of the government or university in the instance of a natural disaster? How would you expect to receive this information.

After conducting a series of interviews, we created a persona that expressed many shared habits, sentiments and expectations.

Our user is a 27 year old young adult who lives across the country from her family.

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  • “I would expect the government to help me.”

  • I don’t have anything prepared for if something does happen.”

  • “The first thing I would try to do is reach my family and tell them I am ok.”


How kickpoint works

Kickpoint is a device for boosting mobility in times of disaster. A community can plan for disaster by purchasing a series of Kickpoint devices that can be inexpensively installed on existing infrastructure in half-mile increments, such as at bus stops and bikeshare docks. Thousands of cards with embedded RFID tags are also distributed to everybody in the community. These cards allow a member of a community to move around a city and tap their card against any Kickpoint with one of three messages.

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1) Check in, which sends a location to family members as you are moving, similar to Find My Friends on iOS.

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2) Meet up, alerting family members where and when to meet, removing the need to meet at a predetermined time and location.

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3) Emergency, signaling that medical, fire, or police presence is needed.


Kickpoint: network diagram

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Current prototype

We currently have a functioning prototype and are part of the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge looking to fund a pilot program to test our product in a disaster-prone area.

ID card, Kickpoint Scanner, Kickpoint Receiver

ID card, Kickpoint Scanner, Kickpoint Receiver

After refining our product based on the pilot outcomes, we will sell to communities in disaster-prone areas looking to invest in resilient infrastructure. Once Kickpoint is established as a reliable piece of decentralized infrastructure with a minimal capital investment, we will approach communities that plan for resilience.