Freshman creates app to help farmworkers

Faith Florez was inspired to develop an app that alerts farmworkers of high temperatures, among other dangers in the fields, after her great-grandmother developed pancreatic cancer and died from pesticides and heat overexposure. (Photo courtesy of Faith Florez)

Growing up in the Central Valley, freshman Faith Florez was raised by immigrant family members who worked on farms. After her great-grandmother, a former farmworker, developed pancreatic cancer and died from pesticides and heat overexposure, Florez was inspired to take matters into her own hands.

“I think realizing the privilege and opportunity I have now, I see an obligation to go back into my community even though I moved to Los Angeles, and do what I can to help individuals [in the Central Valley],” Florez said.

From that obligation, she created the iOS app Calor, which was featured this month.

The app notifies farmworkers when field temperatures exceed 95 degrees, alerting them to take legally mandated breaks for water and shade. It also provides tips on what workers should wear, eat and drink based on weather data and individualized medical information.

In addition, the app hosts short articles and videos to educate farmworkers about their legal rights and ensures their safety and health along with functions like an emergency 911 hotline in conjunction with Apple’s SOS function.

The project began during Florez’s sophomore year of high school, when she approached Viterbi School of Engineering professor Supannika Koolmanojwong  in a software engineering class where Florez wrote the concept for her application.

“With 90,000 farms in California, Calor’s main motivation is to change from ‘work or health’ to ‘work and health,’” Koolmanojwong Mobasser told USC News.

Florez commuted to Viterbi two to three times a month to develop Calor with Koolmanojwong in a class on real-life software development projects. With the guidance of professor Barry Boehm, Florez worked out which functions to prioritize, which services to choose for the weather and notification functions to use in order to make the system more accessible to farmworkers.

“It was really interesting because I didn’t really know anyone there, but the group that I worked with. They’re a really great group of guys, really smart and really effective and productive,” Florez said. “It was a great time working with them.”

Florez has fundraised over $60,000 to cover development costs. She has also been applying for grants and scholarships to fund more Apple Watches for farmworkers. The app is now also expanding to the watch brand Fitbit because it is less expensive than the Apple Watch.

Florez hopes to continue improving the app, and her team is working on adding emergency outline functions that track workers’ locations.

“We’ll kind of adjust the app based off of more pilots that we do and more feedback that we get from farmers and farmworkers,” Florez said.

Florez hopes to expand Calor and make it a standardized tool for farmworkers everywhere.

“It’s really cool that this is being featured [by Apple],” Florez said. “A lot of the time when we talk about the future, everyone’s driving a flying car or having their own personal robot. If we have these really big visions of the future, why can’t an agricultural worker have wearable technology like an Apple Watch that already exists?”