Making Progress

Mike checking in with an update on all things BLUElab India.

Our two technical sub-teams (stoves and toilets) are deep into this semester’s work. Both sub-teams are preparing for the Spring Break feasibility assessment trip (2/27 – 3/8) and the May implementation trip (whole month), made possible by a $15000 grant award from the DOW Sustainability Fellows Program. More on those trips later; first, a quick summary of the progress of each sub-team.

On the stoves side, the team is progressing nicely. Since establishing phone contact with their family partner in Dolatpura (now calling 1-2 times weekly), the team has gathered a lot of important information, and drafted a list of design requirements with the family. Information gathered includes family schedule, materials, problems with current stoves, and more. The process of learning exactly what kinds of qualities the family is looking for is an important part of “co-design”. Since then, the sub-team has had two rounds of concept generation: brainstorming ideas for different designs. Concept generation will eventually lead to the selection of a few designs to focus on, including an “alpha design” (the primary design from which to iterate). Once the team picks an alpha design, they will begin to build and prototype in the Wilson Center (build area). In the meantime, the team is in the process of replicating the current stove design used by the family partner to get a sense of the current situation. This replication will also give the sub-team experience with the needed materials and tools.

On the toilets side (the sub-team I am on), the team is still in the information and design requirement phase. We have a family partner, but communication has been difficult due to conflicting schedules and limited modes of contact. Currently we are using Google Voice for outgoing calls, but have not found a viable option for incoming calls. In addition, the local government in Dolatpura recently committed to providing toilets to every household in the town. This is wonderful, however, it makes our project complicated; we now need to find out everything we can about this project, including: are the government toilets effective? Are people using them? When will the project be completed (if it will be completed)? To find this information, we are in continuous talks with Setco and other people in Dolatpura to gain multiple perspectives. Expect a big breakthrough in the next couple weeks!

In regards to the trips to Dolatpura in Spring Break and May, we still have more planning to do. However, we have outlines for what we want to accomplish. During Spring Break, the primary purpose is to use the face-to-face time to get concentrated feedback on the stoves (and potentially toilet) designs and iterate them accordingly. It may even be possible to build rough prototypes with our family partners while abroad. The work over Spring Break will help set us up for a successful implementation in May, and help us determine if implementation in May is even feasible. Other goals for Spring Break include strengthening relationships with family partners, acquiring more contacts within the local government (Nagar Palika), filling in information gaps, giving a presentation about our progress and goals, and put on a community workshop (such as cooking or science) to boost presence and relationships and share aspects of culture.

In other BLI news, we are preparing to welcome in a group of new members. New Member orientation is coming up in a week and we’re excited to see new faces. We took on a lot of people at the start of last semester, and we now have a solid foundation for growth. It’s no longer going to be doomsday when the first batch of seniors leaves this year (but sad nonetheless). As people get to know each other, team chemistry is definitely improving as well (I.e. people will actually eat the food at meetings now)!

– Mike

P.S. Check out just one example (of many) of a stove design in the worksKaylla Cantilina - 2b

The First Week Back

Hey all, Haresh here with the second blog post of the year.  I am a new member of BLUElab India, having joined just last semester.  Overall, it has been a great time working with the people in BLUElab India, as well as meeting people within the organization as a whole.  This upcoming semester looks like a great opportunity for our team to work with the community in India.

For our first week back, the stoves sub team focused on looking through the BLUElab gate process, and making sure that we are up to speed in terms of each gate before prototyping.  While going through the review, we had some questions arise when we looked back at Gate two, defining the project.  We decided that it would be best to clear up these questions through a phone conversation with the family, and we plan to get in contact with them on Monday morning.

In addition to analyzing our progress, we brainstormed the specific goals and needs of our project and how we might implement those goals into our actual design.  We came up with a myriad of different ideas for each need.  Once the meeting was over, we decided that each member should bring a basic stove drawing for the next meeting.  Overall, the stove sub team’s  goals for this semester would be to start selecting and building some designs in the Wilson center that we might use once we go to India during spring and summer.

For our toilet systems sub team, we are currently around gate two.  We have ran into a couple of issues in terms of government action.  To elaborate the government is planning attempting to build toilets for everyone in Dolutpura.  For the next meetings, the toilet systems sub team is planning on finding out more about the government project, and see where they can go from there.

Overall, this new semester’s opportunities look promising.

Looking Back on Our Semester

Hi everyone, many apologies for the long hiatus of blog posts, but our first semester back has been full of exciting decisions and developments. Not only have we focused our project to two specific issues and one village (two families), but our team has grown in size as well! As winter break comes to a close, this coming semester we will be solidifying designs and prototyping in preparation for travel in both the spring, and summer.

After coming back from a needs assessment trip last summer and evaluating the tons of valuable data, the team decided on two issues to focus on: the unhealthy amounts of smoke women inhale while cooking over burning stoves, and the lack of inexpensive septic tanks/toilet systems.

The most common stoves the travel team saw in India burn fuel (commonly wood) and have poor or no ventilation systems. Women usually spend a majority of their day cooking, inherently breathing in a significant amount of smoke leading to difficulty breathing, and long-term health issues. This semester the team did research on all kinds of low budget clean stove designs including seeking some advice from Professor Joe Trumpey who has an ongoing stove project in Tanzania. As we continue to design, we have been in contact with a family in Gujarat who is willing to work with us. Some things to continue to consider are cost, cooking technique (how will flavor change depending on stove type?), space in the home, and sustainability. Things are looking great and we hope to start building in the Wilson Center soon!

On the flip side, the septic sub team has done a similar literature review, looking at several different types of toilet campaigns and systems. India has an extreme lack of local sanitary toilets, leading to sickness, poor hygiene, and a perpetuating problem. Though India is currently trying to alleviate the issue through building state funded outhouses for numerous families, many of these outhouses remain unused because families must build septic tanks themselves. Unfortunately, these tanks are expensive and unaffordable. The goal this semester was to evaluate methods for low cost tank designs, how and whether or not to redesign the toilet itself, and how to sustainably implement it at an affordable price. Like the stoves sub-team, septic has been making regular calls to the family they are working with, and continue to hone designs for prototyping.

Other than the usual business of brainstorming, meeting, and working on our project, we’ve started a more social side to BLUElab India: grabbing meals, having office hours, and just hanging out to get to know each other. Members have also been attending seminars and workshops to learn better ways to develop projects and plan overseas trips; we’ve been learning some useful information!

The new semester is looking exciting with all kinds of builds, experiments, and trip planning happening. Stay tuned for pictures as we start the prototyping process!

– Kaylla