Telehelp – bridging the digital divide



Johan Ehrenfors (left in group photo) together with his teammates Therese Persson, Daniel Eriksson, (from upper left) Dennis Lioubartsev and David Ekvall. Photo: Private.

 

On 3-6th of April our Maker Johan Ehrenfors and his team participated in Hack the crisis Sweden. Their solution Telehelp won the category “Digital – Save communities” and Johan has now worked part time in Cybercom’s Innovation Zone to continue the project and development of Telehelp.

 

Could you tell us a bit about Telehelp, what is it?

Telehelp is a free telephony service to help connect those in need of help, while self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, with local volunteers based on the postal codes of the users. You can register as a volunteer at www.telehelp.se or call in to +46766861551 for help with picking up groceries or similar.

 

How did you come up with the service?

The basic idea was something that the team, a collection of friends from KTH, came up with together while brainstorming the days just before Hack the Crisis Sweden. We wanted to create something to fill a gap, while building something that could be demonstrated to work at the end of the weekend - which we did! By the end of the hackathon, we had a (buggy, but working) proof of concept for the service, which we put out live. We actually won the competition within our category, "Digital - Save communities". Over 7000 individuals registered for the hackathon, submitting more than 500 solutions across six categories - so this came as quite a surprise!

 

What’s the benefits of it? How can it help and be used in society?

Contrary to most existing services made to help those belonging to risk groups during these trying times, our solution does not require that the person asking for help to have internet access - a simple landline phone will do. This target group correlates highly to those at the greatest risk by the virus, and yet, is often left out! We refer to our service as "bridging the digital divide", since it allows most people to seek help, regardless of technical knowledge, and is a highly scalable, digital cloud solution.

We also highly value individual privacy, by collecting minimal data about the users and never sharing the user's phone numbers with the other party - everything is routed through our phone API service. The only details a volunteer has to submit when signing up, is the telephone number, postal code, and some kind of nickname. Users can also remove their accounts at any time by simply calling the number.

 

What are the next steps for Telehelp?

After winning Hack The Crisis, the team has focused on ironing out a lot of bugs and improving the core features and getting feedback from early users. Since the team members all work at different companies, finding the time to do this has been hard. I want to thank Cybercom for letting me to put part of my work time into this project through Innovation Zone. Currently, we are investigating partnerships with more established organizations, to be able to assist as many people in need of help as possible, while also sussing out any bad actors. Maybe you'll hear more about this in the near future.