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 Frugal Innovation Lab: Engineering solutions for a sustainable world

Monday, Dec. 2, 2013

In SCU’s School of Engineering (SOE), faculty and students strive to connect to the theme of “Engineering with a Mission.” This means engineering students work toward the University’s vision of building a more humane, just, and sustainable world through the development of innovative engineering solutions. In April 2012, Professor Radha Basu founded a groundbreaking new program to help the SOE reach this goal, called Frugal Innovation Lab (FIL).

FIL’s mission is to “develop accessible, affordable, adaptable and appropriate technologies, products and solutions for emerging markets.” In the program, students are guided through three elements: instruction, innovation and immersion. This begins with empathizing and identifying key human needs in order to develop appropriate solutions for emerging market consumers (parts of the developing world that face severe resource and infrastructure constraints, including environmental considerations). Then, students engage in hands-on development of technology innovations, working with Silicon Valley companies, field-based social enterprises, and core School of Engineering faculty to create a functional product using local or minimal resources. The final step takes the engineers into their chosen market: an immersion trip to work with the consumers and to implement their device. Using this process, students can receive vital experience working as both entrepreneur and engineer, while understanding how sustainability is attainable in diverse situations.

Real world success stories:
Santa Clara students have implemented sustainability into numerous FIL projects. Here are a few that stand out:

Ghana Footbridge Project
With Ghana residents facing severe and debilitating rains, SCU civil engineers designed protective, sheltering structures that are made out of local, sustainable, and easily acquired materials.

Lab on a Chip
Bioengineering, computer, and electrical engineering faculty and students developed an on-site arsenic and pathogen detection system that allows for individuals and organizations to test well and ground water for contaminants. Highly accurate and durable, the system is designed in a way that highly sensitive to the needs and constraints that exist in the environments in which it is intended (for now, Bangladesh and India). The device was tested in 34 sites in India during the summer of 2013, and is in its next design iteration. This project is partnered with HP.

Project Omoverhi
This team developed a low-cost, low maintenance, solar-powered incubator for premature infants born in Nigeria.

SalaUno CATRA
With MIT Media Labs and a social enterprise called 'SalaUno' in Mexico, FIL faculty and staff were able to develop a mobile device and application that allows for on-site, accurate detection of cataracts to aid the achievement of the enterprise's mission to prevent avoidable blindness. The device is currently in development and funding is being prepared to formally manufacture and distribute the technology.

Emerging Power for Hospitals in Underdeveloped Countries
This project investigates wind turbine systems on a hospital roof in Nicaragua. In this hurricane-prone area, the turbines would be able to withstand high winds and convert that energy to zero-emission electricity for the hospital. The system would also provide alternative and sustainable energy throughout the year.

Faculty leaders for these FIL projects across several disciplines of engineering are:
Mark Aschheim
Silvia Figueria
Ashley Kim
Shoba Krishnan
Hohyun Lee
Tonya Nilsson

Students continue to work on projects that have not yet been completed. For post-immersion projects, students may redesign their projects based on environmental and social needs of the particular area.

In less than 2 years since its official inception, FIL has already been making waves in the academic and professional sphere. Its one year anniversary was attended by representatives from HP, Samsung, Cisco, other Silicon Valley corporations, and Father Engh. Professor Basu has spoken at the UN Social Innovation Summit on FIL’s successes and future. Students’ projects are receiving grants and partnerships from various organizations, and some have become business collaborations outside of SCU.

Get involved:

The Frugal Innovation Lab is open to all students through classes in the School of Engineering (both undergraduate and graduate). The courses weave in sustainable development, business, and the humanities to apply understanding in all areas of project goals. To sign up, simply discuss your options with your academic advisor or contact FIL via email at fil@scu.edu.

The Frugal Innovation Lab has proven to be a champion for progress in sustainability. By engaging the developing world in environmental awareness through life-saving technology, FIL is driving SCU’s sustainable mission forward.

Contributed by Blair Libby ‘16, Sustainability Intern, Waste Diversion

Tags: Community Engagement, Curriculum, Education and Research, Living Laboratory, Program Highlights, Research

 

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