Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 24 - Final Presentations

Participants spent the morning frantically putting the final pieces of their projects together, as the realization slowly dawned on the teams that the day which they had been working towards for the last few weeks was finally upon them. The presentations were due to take place in the Bartos theatre, in the Media Lab on the West side of campus, and teams were given instructions to report to the main lobby with their posters and prototypes by 3pm, to make sure that we were able to start on time. The attention to detail that the participants and teams paid was exceptional and some unusual requests were made throughout the morning to achieve this!

Limbor, from the ISSB team, recreates heat from the sun by putting his bricks in the oven!

Once the participants had changed out of their workshop clothes and into something more formal, the rush began to move tables, chairs, prototypes, posters, easels(and people!) from the workshops to the Media Lab. Of course, once we got out into the open, it started raining and passers by gazed in wonder as Pearl Millet threshers, charcoal crushers, soil block makers and power generation pumps made their way across the busy street at a rapid pace! Meanwhile, the ropeway transport team were setting up their comparatively huge prototype outside of the Stata centre near IDDS central, preparing to test their model for the first time. They seemed confident it would work when I spoke to them in the morning so there was no surprise when we heard cries of success echoing around the outdoor amphitheatre at Stata!

The pearl millet thresher prototype on it's way to the Media Lab

Once the teams had set up their stall on the ground floor of the Media Lab we were free to catch a sneak preview of each of the team's finished prototypes. The teams have come up with some extremely innovative mechanisms, research and techniques and participant's explained to each other and the other organizers what they had achieved. One of the most interesting projects throughout the conference has been the the Power Generation team and they most certainly didn't disappoint with their final prototype. Over the last three weeks they have developed a system whereby the use of a treadle pump, conventionally designed to irrigate fields, can simultaneously charge batteries which can then function as a form of alternative energy. I was delighted to see their connected light burn brightly as I worked hard on the treadle pump!

The power generation team with their two prototypes

Amanda admires one of the Power Generation prototypes

Two other teams that caught my eye before the final presentations officially began were the Pearl Millet Threshers and the Charcoal Crushers. Both of these teams had also achieved very visible results from their time in the workshops. The Pearl Millet team had developed a superb pedal powered mechanism, centered around bike spokes and tyre flaps, for threshing millet, the staple crop for many rural communities in Africa. They plan to test their prototype in Nicaragua at the nearest possible opportunity to see their products viability in a local context. Amy had shown us earlier in the conference how to make charcoal from agricultural waste and the charcoal crushing team had then come up with a low cost and easy to assemble machine for crushing these charcoal corn cobs into powder. This powder can then be then turned into charcoal briquettes, a far more sustainable form of energy than currently available in many rural communities in the developing world.


Yours truly relishing the chance to try out the superb Pearl Millet Thresher!


Thalia, from the pearl millet team, tries out the Charcoal crusher

These were by no means the only interesting projects and prototypes on show in the Media Lab, however. The SNAP(System for nucleic acid purification) team have developed, in conjunction with technology under development in Boston University, a hand held device which greatly simplifies the process of medical diagnostic testing and can be used in the developing world to help diagnose patients quicker, without the need for them to leave their own communities. The ISSB(Interlocking Stabilized Soil Brick Maker) team have been working on a system that compresses soil and cement into bricks which then have the capability of locking together. This project is intended for initial use in Malawi, a country which currently loses 200 square miles of its forests annually and has huge potential for providing affordable, sustainable housing for its poorest communities.

One of the interlocking stabilized soil block(ISSB) team's posters

Two projects at this year's IDDS focused on the health and well being of new born babies in the developing world. The Breast Milk team began the conference with the goal of creating a system for Flash heating of breast milk so that mother's could avoid transmitting the HIV virus to their children during breast feeding. Their eventual idea and prototype could not be more different however. The team were unique in the history of IDDS in being given access to laboratories at MIT and they conducted over 300 experiments into determining whether or not their nipple shield prototype could be a step in the right direction for research in this field and so far, the results are promising. The team have taken out a year long patent on their idea and Stephen, a chemical engineer at Cambridge, has plans to continue testing as soon as he returns to England!

The Breast Milk team(Project M) pose for a photo

The other related, and at the same time completely different, project this year was the Low Cost Incubator. The idea behind this project was to develop an incubator for use in the developing world which would be easy and cheap to assemble and maintain. The model they have devised most certainly has the potential to do this as each of the working parts of the incubator(the heater, humidifier, oxygen) are all separate modules are made out of locally available parts and can be taken out and put back in easily. In addition to this, the bed that the baby lies on can also be removed and carried easily which could be of huge benefit in the remote, rural health centres at which this product is aimed. The team has also had numerous sample babies throughout the conference, with the latest of these being the deceptively life like puppy seen in the picture below!

The incubator team guard their prototype protectively!

Running slightly behind schedule in the IDDS style we began to make our way into the Bartos theatre at about 4.15pm, in great anticipation of the final presentations. Close to 300 hundred people from both inside and outside of the MIT community attended the event and there was even a film crew inside to make the participants even more nervous! They had, earlier in the week, been given the chance to select one participant to open the ceremony and it came as no surprise that Suprio Das was chosen. Suprio devises technologies in his workshop in his local community in Kolkata, India and then attempts to disseminate them to as many people as possible, improving the lives of people around him to the best of his abilities. I think that many of the participants, organizers(myself included) and mentors at IDDS can say that their own lives have been enriched through interaction with Suprio's intense motivation and even dryer wit and his speech to open proceedings today was wonderfully elegant in its entirety.

Suprio opens the final presentations with a wonderful choice of words

Amy then took the floor, introducing the goals and vision behind IDDS and before going on to highlight that the group in its entirety spoke over 30 languages! She praised this exceptional diversity that exists at IDDS and highlighted the range of disciplines at IDDS including "students and teachers, professors and pastors, economists and engineers, masons and mechanics, doctors, welders, farmers and community organizers". Amy stressed that the central idea, the guiding principle behind bringing such a huge variety of people together, was that of co-creation, "the concept that it is better to provide communities with the skills and tools they need to create technologies, rather than just giving them the technologies themselves". The atmosphere of learning and knowledge sharing that pervaded at IDDS 2008 will hopefully have enabled this idea to take shape!

Amy then went on to introduce each of the ten teams, each of whom took to the stage confidently and managed to give short, concise synopses of their projects under stringent time constraints and a significant amount of pressure . The experience that teams had presenting their ideas to design reviewers the previous two Friday's clearly played a big role in the composure and professionalism that were displayed on stage. Sunil, of the Ropeway transport system, somehow even managed to squeeze in some humour in his presentation!


Sunil presents the Ropeway transport system to the audience


Jessica Huang and Jay Pagnis explain their Power Generation pump


Brian Rasnow explains the Pearl Millet Thresher

Once the participants had completed their presentations Amy thanked all the sponsors who had made IDDS possible this year, and gave a special mention to the Rockefeller foundation who contributed largely to the 4 week conference but who have also made crucial funding available for the all important continuation of the projects. We then moved back outside into the lobby and the audience were then given a chance to chat to each of the individual teams at their respective stands. Participants were only to happy to show off the work they had put so much into over the last month and took time to show both students, professors and reporters alike the ins and outs of their projects.

John Shaba explains the ISSB mechanism to an interested onlooker


Kenny gets up out of his wheelchair to try out his team's treadle power pump, using only one leg!

One project which drew a lot of Media attention was that of the Educational TV Computer and this attention often placed this project in competition with the OLPC(One laptop per child) project worked on by MIT's Media Lab. This could not be further from the truth, however, and George Fuachie, in his short presentation on the project, made this clear from the outset. The ED-TV project does not aim to create a new cheap computer, rather it seeks to use existing, low cost and already available TV computer technology to supplement education in rural Ghana. George highlighted that this was a necessity as many of the government run schools in rural Ghana were of poor quality and thus this idea of computer aided learning has huge potential to transform education in these rural communities. So the team, essentially, is working on creating a software development kit which could facilitate local educational content development. George will now bring this project with him back to Ghana, assess its viability in the market and then hopefully work with his team to bring the project to the next level!

One of the educational TV computer team's posters

The bottom floor of the Media Lab, where the presentations took place

Overall the final presentations were an incredibly successful event and I personally felt they represented a vindication of the IDDS mantra, to produce "prototypes, not papers or proceedings." These concrete solutions to issues that affect the world's poorest communities are what make IDDS such a special conference to be involved in and to have had the privilege to see the transformation of basic ideas into fully developed prototypes in the space of three weeks has left me feeling more than a little awed. Suprio, in his speech which you may have viewed above, spoke about the motivation, the driving force, behind the work and long hours that participants had put into IDDS 2008. His conclusion, that the binding force between participants, organizers, mentors and sponsors is that "we all look forward to have this world a better place to live in", is refreshing in its simplicity and encapsulated the spirit that has infected all of us involved in IDDS 2008.

Stephen and Geoff, of the Breast Milk team, letting off some steam at the Ropeway system outside Stata

After the final presentations the group went across the Charles river for a well deserved feast at the Island Hopper restaurant. Participants were unsure as what to do when given a few hours free time at the end of the day, simply because it has happened so rarely at this conference. We will all be back in the labs tomorrow morning, for a day packed with lab clean ups, evaluations, participant presentations and the hotly anticipated talent show(rumour has it that the Backstreet Boys will be attending but we are unable to confirm this as of yet).

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