Improving People’s Worlds.
If you’ve spent any time around Design Collaborative, you have undoubtedly heard these phrases. At DC, these are more than just slogans to put on promotional material; they are the heart and soul in everything we do, both in the office and in our community. Two of Design Collaborative’s electrical interns have taken these sayings to heart and applied them to their school work.
Those two interns are Cooper Hill and Phillip Oprie (that’s me), and we’ve been with DC for over a year as interns while each completing a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). We're each completing our senior year course work while working part time at DC.
As part of the required course of study, we’ve been working on a Senior Design Project. In the project, students are separated into teams and partnered with a local company interested in working with students to develop an idea. We (along with a third partner from school) were asked to work with a local company to solve a particular problem. When our team heard the proposal, we knew that not only did we have the opportunity to improve people’s worlds, but we hoped to radically change them.
According to the World Health Organization in 2015, 2.1 billion people lacked safe water at home. Of those, 263 million spent more than a 30 minute round trip to collecting water every day. Our team decided to focus our efforts on India, where 163 million people lack access to safe water.
We partnered with a Senior Design Team in the Computer Science (CS) department at IPFW. The teams brain stormed solutions and came to the idea of a “Water Kiosk” as a viable way to approach the problem.
The Water Kiosk can best be thought of as an ATM for water. Customers have accounts with the company managing the kiosk. When the customers go to the kiosk, they select the amount of water they want and then their account is charged based on the water dispensed. Monetizing the water purchases allows for the kiosk owner, which would be different from the company creating the kiosk, to have an economic incentive to have kiosks accessible to the largest number of potential customers possible. The system could be remotely monitored and controlled through an internet connection. This also allows the kiosk owner to know vital information about the kiosk in terms of usage, as well as if there’s a problem with the system.
Cooper and I were tasked with developing and building the physical kiosk station. The CS team created the “virtual kiosk” that the owner would most often interact with. Filtering the water and powering the system with renewables was left for later teams to work with, as the kiosk system was a large project to tackle during the school year.
When the initial brain storming was complete, the team jumped in and got to work at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year. A timeline was set to complete a detailed design by the end of the first semester and complete the build by the end of the second semester.
During the first semester, the electrical engineering students learned about the engineering design process. Our team researched and discussed how to build the kiosk and determined what would be necessary to complete the build process. We thought about who would use the kiosk and how they would be using it. It was at this point that Cooper and I were really able to think about who this project might help and how it could change their worlds.
In India, and much of the developing world, women and girls are charged with the task of collecting water. As water sources become scarcer, they are forced to travel farther, consuming a majority of their day. In rural areas, it’s common for people to walk ten miles carrying 15 liters of water every day. Girls as young as 10 years old are expected to contribute to the household tasks, including the daunting task of water collection. Many times, these girls drop out of school to help carry the burden of moving water for their family.
According to UNICEF between 2008 and 2012, girls’ attendance in primary school was at 81.4%; by the time they reach secondary school, attendance fell to 48.7%. There are many reasons for this heart breaking statistic, but the need to collect water is a definite contributor.
By the end of the first semester, the team had a design and was ready to begin the build process. During the second semester, our team faced many challenges. Components didn’t work as advertised, computer code that we wrote would work one minute and not the next, and pieces of the design that worked as stand-alone broke once the entire system was integrated. Despite all these challenges, the team was finally able to demonstrate and present a working proof of concept.
Electrical Engineering can follow so many different paths and the education I received at IPFW covered a wide range of topics in various fields. Throughout this design project, Cooper and I learned tools and skills for what is needed to go from finding a problem, to developing an idea to address the problem, to building the solution to the problem, and finally testing the solution and making changes to improve the solution. We’ve been able to apply this sort of problem solving to the different projects we’ve worked on during our internships with Design Collaborative.
After graduation, I’m looking forward to applying the skills acquired during my time as an intern and student to my career as an electrical engineer. I’m excited to join Design Collaborative as a full time electrical engineer beginning this summer (after some much needed post-college rest)!
Associate, Electrical Engineer