Benetech Labs Latest Projects

Photo of a SocialCoding4Good tech talk for VMware employeesPhoto of Benetech staff brainstorming at whiteboard.Photo of an event in which SocialCoding4Good worked with NASA to challenge software developers to leverage NASA's graphing tool MathTrax in order to improve the accessibility of science and math textbooks in Bookshare.

Benetech Labs — Some of Our Latest Projects

Here you can read more about some of the latest social good technolgoy applications we are pursuing in the Labs. In some cases, these ideas are already in prototype form, and we’re helping groups figure out how to build a sustainable social enterprise to deliver the technology.

You can also view the complete list of our Labs project ideas.

Graphic of Benetech's logo, a globe with a binary code.

Code Alliance (previously SocialCoding4Good)
Four LinkedIn employees working together at a desk in a conference room. Behind them a large-size monitor displays computer-projected content.

LinkedIn employees lending their time and skills to Code Alliance’s HFOSS partner Amara

The Challenge: Technology-for-good efforts are exploding. Multiple programs are launching to tackle social challenges—from civic engagement and education to poverty alleviation and the environment—through open technology. Yet citizen technologists often struggle to find meaningful opportunities to volunteer their professional skills, and humanitarian, open source organizations lack the resources to find specifically skilled technical volunteers.

Proposed Solution: Bridge the open source software, nonprofit, and corporate tech communities in ways that support and sustain long-term open source engagement in the service of social good.

Benetech Labs Prototype: Code Alliance (previously SocialCoding4Good), a project that matches skilled tech volunteers with organizations that develop humanitarian, free and open source software (HFOSS), helping them deliver better services to disadvantaged populations around the world.

Sustainability Plan: We expect the partner technology companies to pay us for doing company-specific volunteer events and projects. Code Alliance (previously SocialCoding4Good) is already generating over $100,000 per year in this kind of revenue, representing a major part of the current budget.

To learn more, visit the Code Alliance website and read our related blog posts.

Photo of volunteers describing textbook images, using DIAGRAM Center's Poet tool.

Volunteers describing images at an “image slam” event, using DIAGRAM Center’s Poet tool

The Challenge: Adding image descriptions to images in books in order to make them accessible for people with vision impairments is a costly and time-consuming process.

Proposed Solution: Make it easy and fast to create image descriptions.

Benetech Labs Prototype: Poet, an open source, web-based tool that makes it easy to create image descriptions for images in existing DAISY books, and that allows crowdsourcing of image descriptions to reduce cost and delivery time for end-users.

Poet’s initial development has been funded through Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center.

To learn more, visit the Poet site, read the DIAGRAM Center’s information about Poet, and read our related blog posts.

MathML Cloud
Slide that explains how Benetech's app MathML Cloud works.

Click to enlarge this visual rendition of how MathML Cloud works.

The Challenge: While some publishers and content creators are beginning to include accessible math equations in digital content, most standard reading technologies lack native support for MathML (Mathematical Markup Language)—an open standard for encoding information that facilitates the use of mathematical expressions in web pages and digital textbooks. As a result, publishers still often default to the least common denominator, an image, and lose all the important accessible coding.

Proposed Solution: Create a bridge that retains math markup and helps the educational community deliver accessible math.

Benetech Labs Prototype: MathML Cloud, a cloud-based app that automatically creates accurate images and image descriptions of mathematical expressions, while retaining the detailed math markup for reference. It allows content developers to accurately express digitized math and render it through visual display and alternative access means, such as synthetic speech and braille. This service will provide access to math for students who have visual disabilities or learning differences, thus enabling them properly to study math concepts critical for successful Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

To learn more, visit the MathML Cloud website, read our MathML Cloud webpage, and read our related blog posts.

Clean Water Project
Photo of a Sanitation Board in Paraguay.

The apps we’re exploring jointly with Avina and other partners will benefit Sanitation Boards like this one in Paraguay

The Challenge: In Latin America, fifty million people live without access to drinking water. Local water and sanitation organizations lack the resources to improve their services, while institutional funders find it difficult to evaluate whether investments in these organizations will be spent effectively or responsibly.

Proposed Solution: Create data-driven development credit scores for water and sanitation organizations that enable better monitoring, evaluation, and sharing of best practices, and thus help establish a replicable model for improving local water management.

Benetech Labs Prototype: Mobile and web apps for collection, analysis, and mapping of data about the capacity of local water organizations in Latin America. Using a mobile data collection app, conduct a diagnostic survey of organization capacity. The survey results are uploaded to a web app that generates a dashboard and assigns a virtual credit score for each organization. The dashboard features investment criteria paired with educational content based off of the diagnostic results. Through partnerships with institutional partners—such as Fundación Avina, and, in the future, microfinance institutions—top scoring participants will be granted funding for development projects.

secureApp Generator
Slide showing a mockup of Benetech's prototype titled secureApp generator.

Benetech’s secureApp Generator will enable users to securely and easily collect, distribute, and preserve their data.

The Challenge: Journalists, citizen reporters, human rights activists, and others social justice groups are capturing sensitive information about the vulnerable populations they serve or report on, but rarely do they have the expertise or resources to consider the security and safety of their data over time. Moreover, they are subject to grave risks posed by the growing ability of repressive actors and organized crime to monitor and target them.

Proposed Solution: Lowering the barrier to using strong, open encryption in mobile data collection to enhance users’ ability to preserve sensitive information and to help them uphold their ethical commitments to protect witnesses, interviewees, and vulnerable populations.

Benetech Labs Prototype: The secureApp Generator by Benetech will create write-only, open source data collection applications with end-to-end encryption that are “Powered by Martus.” These apps will be delivered quickly and pre-configured: even with specific branding and unique customization features, over 90% of the application will be built on a common platform based on our Martus secure technology. Users could be ready to securely collect, distribute, and preserve text, audio, photos, and video within minutes of download without the need for extensive training.

Photo of Benetech Human Rights Field Team member Collin Sullivan during training with partners.

Human Rights Program Associate Collin Sullivan training a member of our partner group on Martus and Tails

The Challenge: Human rights groups face increasingly sophisticated attackers with the ability to exploit their growing digital surface. We have long been aware that our Human Rights Program’s partners are targets of surveillance, information theft, and compromise. For example, when a group documenting human rights abuses against the Tibetan community came to us in 2013 with interest in using Martus—Benetech’s free, open source, secure information collection and management software—they brought with them a deep mistrust of their own hard drives. Read more about their story.

Proposed Solution: Offer a Martus implementation method that emphasizes security at all stages, using a tamper-resistant, secure OS.

Benetech Labs Prototype: mTails is a Benetech-custom build of Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) that will ship with Martus already installed, extraneous software removed for faster download when Internet connection is spotty, and an environment optimized for systematic, secure documentation. In the long term, we can pursue a partnership with Tails and have Tails bundle Martus into their regular build.

3D Printing for Accessible Education

The Challenge: Imagine what it’s like to learn about spatial concepts—like DNA, or the structure of lipids—without seeing them. This is one of the challenges students with visual impairments face every day. 3D-printed models open up new avenues to understanding spatial concepts for these students and new opportunities to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education for all. These models, however, are out of most students’ reach.

Proposed Solution: Make it easy and fast for educators and parents to find and buy 3D-printed models of STEM spatial concepts. These can be customized, created by non-specialists in accessibility, and shared with all students in a classroom.

Benetech Labs Prototype: Convene a national forum to gather more information about the application of 3D printing to accessible education through four connected initiatives:

  • Build an initial repository of 3D models optimized for educational value, accessibility, customization, and ease of printing in common 3D printers that educators and students can try out in the classroom.
  • Connect educators to a local network of 3D printing resources in schools, museums, libraries, and other community maker spaces.
  • Create a training module for educators on using 3D-printed models as tools for accessible teaching and for integrating universal design into the classroom.
  • Draft technical metadata for 3D modeling tools and software to improve their accessibility and make them more available through learning resources, such as online classes and textbooks.

Our Global Literacy Program is piloting some aspects of this prototype with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Read more about this pilot project.

Fully Accessible Math in Online Learning Environments

The Challenge: Math is particularly challenging for students with visual impairments or other disabilities, because so much of it is expressed in a notation system for which there is extremely limited support in educational technology.

Proposed Solution: Provide a flexible solution to the problem of performing and reading math online for students with print disabilities, the educators that work with them, and the content creators who are building the digital lessons that they learn from.

Benetech Labs Prototype: An end-to-end learning platform with four development components:

  • Multimodal rendering of math, with special focus on alternate audio rule-sets;
  • Math expression navigation so users can traverse the subcomponents of a mathematical expression;
  • An editing/authoring system for students and content creators that is fully integrated with a conversion and rendering system robust enough to provide real-time feedback for the user.
  • Integration with one mainstream learning platform (TBD), providing a responsive, personalized experience for the end user.