Engineering News Winter 2015

Sushma Devarapalli at work in the Frugal Innovation Lab

Sushma Devarapalli at work in the Frugal Innovation Lab

A Piece of the Puzzle

"Coming from India, where resources are constrained, I was always interested in Jugaad," said graduate software engineering student Sushma Devarapalli, referring to the Hindi-Urdu colloquialism for finding creative work-arounds. "So when I came to SCU, I took the class Mobile Labs for Emerging Markets, and then became a research assistant in the Frugal Innovation Lab [FIL], working with Dr. Silvia Figueira [computer engineering associate professor]." Devarapalli’s first task was to help Solar Ear, a social enterprise that puts hearing-impaired youth in Africa to work assembling digital rechargeable hearing aids and solar battery chargers.

As a result of participating in Mobile for Humanity (M4H), an online course sponsored by Cisco through the Frugal Innovation Lab and Santa Clara’s Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), Solar Ear was able to identify a key need. The organization already had a great product and sustainable business model, but it lacked a way to gather test results and demographic information from customers in the field into a database.

"They wanted to use an open source tool to enable information gathering via SMS, or text messaging. This created a challenge for them because there was an overwhelming array of options available and they were not tech savvy enough to find a viable, sustainable solution. That’s where we came in," Devarapalli said.

She got to work matching Solar Ear’s requirements to the best available software. "One tool, Magpie, had it all. It is easily customizable so they will be able to adapt the solution to meet their needs now and in the future. We wanted to empower them to make changes so they would not have to rely on us. Another organization, World Wide Hearing, also operates in emerging markets, and they wanted an inventory management and sales consolidation tool. I tweaked Magpie to fit their needs, too. The whole point of frugal innovation is to leverage the open source tools out there to create optimum solutions," she said.

"SCU is on the cutting edge of developing mobile technologies for social benefit. Dr. Figueira has a lot of experience in this field and it feels so good to be part of this work. We’re just a piece of the puzzle for these organizations, but it feels so good to be part of helping them create the bigger picture."

computer engineering, Silvia Figueira, Sushma Devarapalli, A Piece of the Puzzle