Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Engineers Without Borders Changing Paradigm?

I received a note today from a colleague at a NSF conference in Hawii (must be nice). She wrote the following:

The man who founded EWB "spoke here yesterday & today, and his views sound a lot like yours - empowerment, education, use of local technicians/skills/materials and appropriate levels of technology. They've got a center that he started out in Colorado that gives degrees in this stuff - a multidisciplinary program."

I remember sending pictures of our work to someone at EWB after a talk at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) this winter. I am hoping that their web site will make a switch in language as well and maybe they will start collaborating with technical schools and co-create curriculum with them... especially in terms of their energy and water crises.

It would be wonderful to start seeing the language co-create and replace Design for the Other 90%! I know some engineers at University of Michigan (Blue Lab and M-Heal) who want credit for designs over empowering technicians as well as who want to be THE next inventor to make a big impact. Everyone I asked if they were working with local technicians said no. They just show/illustrate/install the devices to/for them.

Personally, the techicians I work with in Uganda are more innovative than I am. I have lots of original great ideas, but they are not always practical (more of a physicist still and not quite a full-fledged engineer). The technicians are innovative and brilliant and make the electricity producing devices actually work (all with parts which can be purchased in Uganda). It is taking a while for me to convince them that they can truly design and engineer devices themselves. When I took M-Heal's alpha prototye for the surgical lamp, they said they could easily design a better system (in terms of cheaper and local materials). They were amazed that engineers go through multiple design steps before they reach a final product. I hope that regardless of what happens... that they learn to have faith in themselves. They are brilliant... just as brilliant as engineers here!

I wonder if the Industrial Revolution discussions African leaders have had could be addressed with empowering local technicians to be innovative and entrepreneurial. A curriculum to empower innovation instead of a curriculum to fix imported devices. If this could be interconnected with business university curriculum, then that would impact many smaller scale communities (ones without university curriculum in engineering, but with a technical school, for example).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Empowering Entrepreneurs in th USA!

There is no shortage of ideas to generate power (and do other useful work) - just search YouTube for pedal power for a huge selection. How many oh these ideas could be "translated" to design using locally available materials and shared with needy communities outside the United States? The suggestion I have below may help.

A simple "Technology Translation Table" could be assembled. The first column would list a material or technology available in the United States, and each row would describe an item, such as "Grade 8 Bolts" or "Low Voltage, high-current diode." The second and subsequent columns would each represent a country, or region within the country (Uganda Metro, Uganda Rural) and list the equivalent technology available in that region.

The table would be jointly developed by US Entrepreneurs and individuals who have actual on-site experience with materials and technologies in the listed locations.

Such a table would undoubtedly filter many ideas out that could not be translated to local materials. However, it might also encourage design revisions to better match designs to local resources, resuting in more practical designs being developed.

Posted while pedaling, powered by me!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Today, I upload and email people for edits...

Now comes the beginning of what we hope will be a fruitful endeavor. First, we need to go through a set of edits. Hopefully, this will be a fairly quick process so that we can officially publish the site and work on having search engines rank the site high. If you are interested in joining this community blog, please email me at amechten@gmail.com and I will add you.

Thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged this endeavor!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Uganda Implementation

We have now co-designed and build six electrical generating devices:

(1) Bicycle generator
(2) Hand-crank generator
(3) Vertical wind turbine (but this one is in need to a well-matched generator which we are working on)
(4) Merry-go-round generator
(5) Micro hydroelectric generator
(6) Surgical lamp with two back-up electricity sources (when the grid goes off)

We need to add more pictures to the web site, but that will come in time. I am beginning to think that I should simply post this web site and edit it as we go. Previously I was trying to get everything up and running and well edited, but it is taking so long will all the other responsibilities in life.

Kenya Implementation

Peter Muhoro returned from MPala last week. The staff, who normally do not have good and reliable access to charging their batteries, are thrilled with the bicycle generator. They are using a car alternator (whereas Ghana is using a motor cycle dynometer). One villager ran to get his 12 V battery and immediately charged it up in 30 minutes.

Initial measurements show that the bicycle generator (with car alternator and strong healthy biker) is generating 30 Amps of current for a 12 volt battery. This is 360 Watts of human power output! Potentially this is not sustainable because the power input must be greater than this amount and very demanding on the body. However, in Kenya they have marathon runners who have redefined what a champion athlete can sustain in terms of power output. Still care should be taken to not overtax the human body.

Now Peter is having people contact him about the merry-go-round generator. Peter wants to write grants for this, but we are both wondering where we should start. I want to focus on empowering all the technical schools and technicians and Peter wants to focus on market development and implementation. Hopefully together we can find someone or some organization to support this work. The technicians do not have money to build these devices unless they know they have a market, but we cannot create a market without having someone pilot the devices.

Ghana Implementation

Robert Van Buskirk the head of LBNL's Village Project International (VPI) research called me many times this Spring. He took the bicycle generator idea to a technician in Bolgatanga, Ghana and was amazed that they can build it there as well. Furthermore, he said it would hybridize well with the solar panel (which was something we are working on as well). He said that his program was interested in generating a market for this locally designed electrical generating device and agreed to work with a local auto electric technician: Abdul Raman.

His agreement with Abdul is that Abdul determines what it would cost him to supply a bicycle generator system to someone, and he finds some customers, and then VPI 1/2 the price for the first few customers so that he can sell the initial systems at a discount.

Here's hoping that more organizations get behind this paradigm shift away from "Designing for the Other" and shifting towards "Empowering Design" with local materials and expertise!

Adding Contacts

Today I have added Prof. Makanda to the blog contacts. As I being to post this website, I hope we can add more contacts to create a community of co-designers. Together we can create a Physics and Business of Energy empowerment coalition to design for human development needs: health, education, and economics.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wow... it worked!

This is going to be an easy way to set up a blog on the EmpowerDesign.org web site. I am still not ready to publish the site, but I am getting closer. I have set up a couple of people to read it over before I publish it.

Trying this out

Today I am beginning my first journey into the blogging world. I want to be able to embed this into my web site, but not sure if that is going to work out. If so, this will be great!