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Mega Project Finale: Sustainable Living

At the end of the semester long collaboration, the I.T. students from Belgium Campus iTversity (South Africa), PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Belgium), and Fontys University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands), met to present their unique solutions around sustainable living in the programme finale event which took place online. The virtual event was attended by 78 people from around the world with six participating teams made up of students from various disciplines and faculties. The nerve wrecking and thrilling programme experience went beyond the construction of projects to providing students with an adventure of interacting with the world through international peers, and dealing with communication and cultural differences that form part of different nationalities.

The purpose of the Mega Project was to provide students with a meaningful opportunity to be part of building sustainable living for a smarter world, with a specific focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The three areas of sustainable living that were addressed was Waste Management, Energy Transition, and Air Quality. Participating students from around the globe took over the virtual stage to present their well-researched and ably-arranged projects to the audience and impressed the jury panel.

Waste Management Challenge

In this category the students were challenged to come up with solutions that focus on waste prevention, reuse, recycling and recover. Team 1 dubbed themselves Vastum Magna, and Team 2, came guns blazing to present their ideas where they both zoomed in on waste pickers, who are already cleaning the cities. The SDG goals targeted by both teams included good health, economic growth and responsible consumption. Their solutions were different but both teams provided some attainable ways to manage waste.

Vastum Magna put emphasis on a solution that aims to provide resources that will enable waste pickers to efficiently continue with what they currently do by offering them adequate support. With this solution they hope for the social inclusion of the waste pickers by giving them recognition similar to what the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), whose mission is to get the waste pickers the respect they deserve, is doing. Their solution aims to assign territories for the waste pickers with reduced geographical zones but access to more waste.  Lastly, allocate designated drop off sites in those zones cutting down on their travel time to the recycling centres. At these drop-off sites there will be an onsite waste sorting machine which will cut-out the need for the waste pickers to go through the garbage.

Team 2’s solution hoped to involve various stakeholders  involved in the waste creation process  to be part of the overall waste management solution. This includes households, waste pickers and retailers. Their solution process would start with a provision of barcoded refuge bags to households who will be responsible for sorting out garbage before taking it out for the waste pickers to collect.

 

Waste pickers will collect the already sorted-refuge bags for drop off at the recycling centres where they will exchange them for cash. The recycling centres will scan the refuge bag’s barcode and households will receive incentives in a form of points which would be redeemable at participating retail stores. Households will be able to track their incentives via a web-based application (app) developed by Team 2 for this purpose.

Energy Transition Challenge  

In this challenge, the students were to create tools which must optimise the management of renewable energy by predicting and creating a balance between production and consumption.

Team 3 chose the ‘Reaching the maximum autarky’ theme. Their solution highlighted that the general public does not have accurate knowledge of how solar production works, therefore limiting interest and potential usage. Their website and app hopes to provide insight for the general public to understand the effects and benefits of solar energy.

 

They built their website and app on the linear regression machine learning model – by using different Python based technologies, various google functions for documents, and built-in cyber security. The smart app will automatically detect input information such as weather, time, and power usage which will enable the app to produce accurate information about power input and output at specific periods of the day. The average user will gain more understanding of their usage and make informed adjustments where needed.

 

Team 4 presented their goal of optimising solar generation and creating a predictive system by using UV data and helping users better understand their energy data while making use of open remote energy systems. They build their machine learning model using existing solar systems’ data, fitted with 20,000 rows. Their machine learning model was trained 50 times and presented a prediction accuracy of 90%. The basic layout of the app had three interactive layers which allowed users to log in, move from no specific data to predictive data after completing a few data fields. . This solution is designed for situations that typically have more reliable grid connections but provides a dynamic solution for going off-grid. 

Air Quality Challenge

The I.T. students participating in this challenge were tasked with the creation of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) app that is capable of consolidating information from existing air quality sensors to suggest actions that will maintain optimal air quality.

Team 5 themed their presentation ‘Air pollution in the modern world’. The team’s main research focus was on designing an app that can personalise and improve the air quality index by providing users with an interactive and friendly experience.  Their app was designed to forecast air quality by entering personalised information such as name, surname and basic health questions into a solution database to provide sustainable suggestions based on user preferences for improving the overall air quality. Due to the sensitivity of the information captured on the app, it has a two-factor authentication process as an added security feature.

 

Team 6’s innovation was an app that predicts and provides homeowners with personalised and eco-friendly advice about solving air quality challenges that may emerge and affect their health.

 

The multi-platform mobile app, promises users an accurate air quality forecast by logging into the app (which can be used on multiple devices). The app will automatically capture data sensor readings when turned on. The app bases its readings on the forecasted  temperature, humidity and air-pressure.  Practical advice on how to balance the air quality will be generated  from the captured information and its accuracy will last up to eight hours. .  

At the end, the jury came to a conclusion about the general participation and presentation skills of the teams to be very good. The final project assessment criterion was based on:

  • SDGs – The extent the presentation contributed to the SDGs.
  • Innovation – The overall value of innovation, research and practicality of the project.
  • Solution Completeness – Based on various details such as functional and operational aspects. IT architecture, Cyber security, Software development and more.
  • Intercultural Awareness – Value of experience towards becoming global citizens.

 

The judges put a spotlight on intercultural awareness accentuating the benefits of people of different nationalities working together towards a common goal. Some of the nationalities that participated in this project were South Africans, Belgians, Indians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Dutch, Nigerians and many more. From the stats, only 33.3% of the participants recorded English as their home language.

Although participating students had to manage and work with cross-cultural differences, they worked well together noting very little problems. Their biggest challenges transpired from communication barriers which were mostly from language, accents, communication styles and other barriers such as varying experience with technology stacks and work ethics. Overcoming all these barriers was not an easy task, it was achieved through focus and strategic planning which included better time planning, creating work structures and incorporating different cultures within various teams.

All participating students walked away with far greater knowledge and experience than they started with. The Mega Project exposed them to working with diverse teams, multicultural content and multidisciplinary innovations. Hopefully, this experience laid strong foundation skills which will enable them to become the future tech leaders whose innovations will provide clearer solutions to the global problems and drive real change.  At the end of the event, a shared vision of providing students with an opportunity to ideate feasible and sustainable solutions towards addressing real-world problems, was achieved.

 

By Kgomotso Mogotlane

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