MobileActive.org posted an interesting interview with “Artivist” Ricardo Dominguez, who is working on a locative media project designed to assist immigrants crossing the border to the U.S. from Mexico. His work-in-progress concept, called the Transborder Immigrant Tool, leverages GPS enabled cell phones to aid in the safe passage of desert border crossers.

“The device seeks to reduce the number of deaths along the border by helping immigrants locate resources such as water caches and safety beacons.”

Not only is the tool seemingly well designed (read below) for the population it targets, but it seems relevant for remote and wilderness emergency situations more broadly. If you have seen the movie or read the book Into the Wild, you know what I mean.

But the fact that this project is designed to assist illegals specifically, even though it is clearly a practical attempt to save lives, puts it directly in the cross hairs of the national debate on immigration and immigration reform. Groups like the Minutemen will no doubt have lots to say about it…and they ain’t gonna be happy!

All politics aside, check out some of the design details…

_“The tool is built on a Motorola i455 phone, which offers several advantages. Not only is the phone cheap — about $40, according to Ricardo — but no service is required for GPS functionality. “What we needed was a really inexpensive telephone, one that we could crack the GPS system, and one that would accept new algorithms.”

The team took language into account when designing the application. “We needed to design the interface in a way that would be somewhat universal in terms of the community that would be crossing the border,” he said. Many of the migrants are from indiginous communities, and wouldn’t necessarily speak Spanish. The end result was a navigation system that looks like a compass. The phone also vibrates in response to certain landmarks, like water or a highway. The vibrations allow the user to concentrate on the surrounding environment instead of constantly looking at the screen of the phone.”_

Mr. Dominguez also has a distinct (and frankly unusual) artistic vision for the project…

“We were trying to think of many layers of communication — iconic, sound, vibratory,” he said. Additionally, the program helps the user not only avoid getting lost, but helps him or her find a more aesthetic route.

Technology, art, and politics are all present in this one!

The tool is scheduled to be ready for use by the end of next year.