When I first found out about LEX, I was completely uninterested in the program. Stepping out of my comfort zone and doing trying things that I was not familiar with did not appeal to me, at all. However, after attending the briefing for the program, I was inspired by the seniors who have gone on this trip to want to do something more for the community near me. I feel that LEX would be a great chance to achieve that.
After submitting my application, I was slightly disheartened because it struck me then that there are so many other students applying for the limited slots. What were the chances of me getting a slot on this trip? Honestly, I was so disappointed because I felt that I had no chance at all. A few months later, when I had completely forgotten about my application, I received an email informing me that my application was successful. I was thrilled!!
Before we head to Thailand, we had an entire day of Design Thinking Workshop. Prior to the workshop, I was really nervous because I did not know what type of people to expect for this trip and I did not know what was expected of us for this project as well. However, after the workshop, I felt relieved because everyone seemed nice and we got along fine. This made me really excited for the actual trip!!
For our project, we went to Klong 15; Khu Khot Village, a community in Thailand who specialises in growing ornamental plants. The villagers’ livelihood depends greatly on the sales of these plants.
The villagers were facing problems with the planting process. In the full length of producing a type of plant, the farmers have to first fill the bags with soil, then plant the seeds in the soil, followed by taking care of the seedlings with extreme caution before the plant can finally grow to a mature size for selling. In every single step, the farmers face a very similar problem - tedious manual work that affects their health adversely.
Figure 1 Hardworking farmers have to constantly bend down to complete their tasks
On top of that, one nursery plants more than 1 type of plant and different species of plants grow at different speed. Hence, the farmers have to juggle their time to handle the plants at different stages of growth. Therefore, the foundation of planting all types of plants - filling up the plastic bags with rice husk ash, is compromised by time because the farmers do not necessary have the whole day to fill up all the bags that they need for planting.
Our solutions to these 2 problems include wanting to shorten the process of filling in the bags with rice husk ash and allowing the farmers to work from the comfort of a height so that they do not have to constantly bend down to complete their tasks.
We came up with our first prototype which combined the steps of filling in the bags with soil in a systematic step-by-step tool.
Figure 2 First prototype!
Throughout the making of the prototype, we faced several problems with perfecting the alignment of the parts which eventually lead to the prototype not working the way we wished for it to work during 2 rounds of testing.
Testing out the prototype was depressing. The first time we tried it, we faced many problems. The first step was to fit the plastic bags onto the plastic bag holder. However, the process to doing that was too time-consuming. The shovel intended for filling the box with soil threw the soil everywhere instead of the plastic bag holder where it was supposed to land. The compressor was not aligned properly so the individual compressors could not push down to compress the soil effectively.
In all, after the first testing, we came to a conclusion that the prototype was not efficient enough in filling up the plastic bags with soil and was not well-made enough to be made practical to help the community. However, our group did not intend to give up here. We made the necessary changes to the prototype in accordance to the problems we faced during the first testing!
We removed the shovel as we felt that it would be easier to use an external shovel to scoop the soil into the plastic bag holder. Then, we modified the alignment of the compressor to make it fit into the individual plastic bags. However, we were really stumped about how to improve the timing needed to fit the plastic bags into the plastic bag holder.
Nonetheless, we were really excited to see how the new amendments would work out so we went for a second round of testing anyway. The second round of testing proved to be much better since there was less mess from not having the shovel and the compressor could finally fit into the individual compartments of the plastic bag holders.
After the second round of testing, it was already late in the evening but we really wanted to continue with the brainstorming to make fitting of the plastic bags much easier. However, co-creation was the next day and all of us were really out of ideas already. Hence, we made the decision to rest for the night and present our current prototype concept to the community the next day as planned.
After the co-creation feedback, we gathered that our prototype was not helping the community as much as they expected and as much as we wanted to because of how time-consuming it was to use the prototype as a whole. Also, the entire process was still very much manual and it did not help to address the problem of the farmers having to bend down constantly which is the main cause of their health being affected adversely.
The co-creation feedback did not come as a surprise, but it was still disappointing to find out that the prototype that you have been working on for so long was not feasible. Fortunately, the entire group was optimistic about the situation and made a rebound very fast. We managed to start brainstorming for new ideas to make our prototype better the next instant.
Figure 3 Brainstorming for a new solution, fast!!
After much thought, we made a choice to start working on an entirely new concept altogether. Even though this was a huge leap and a big risk, our team decided to go ahead with it. Perseverance does reap positive results and we really managed to complete an entirely new prototype from scratch in less than a day!
Our second prototype was a simplified version of prototype 1 and it made use of motorised concepts to help hasten the process of filling up the bags.
Figure 4 Presenting to you...... Prototype #2!!
The first step was to use the bendable tube to suck up the soil into the plastic container.
Figure 5 Suck it all into the plastic container!
Then, the soil would fall to the middle section of the prototype into the turbine. When the user fits the plastic bag onto the nozzle, the user should be able to conveniently press on the button right near the nozzle to get the turbine going. Once the turbine starts moving, it helps to push the soil out in a compressed state with adequate force to fill the plastic bags nicely. When the user removes the user, the bags would be filled nicely and the turbine would also stop.
In this prototype, we incorporated 2 types of motorised equipment and despite not having the knowledge and skills to make our concept an actual thing, we still feel that we have done a good job with coming up with the potential solution for the farmers.
Alright, I think you must be bored from the overload of information about our project. Now for the fun part – homestay at the ashram.
It was an amazing experience at the homestay where we got to stay in an ashram away from the hustle and bustle of the city life that everyone on the trip was accustomed to. The 4 days at the Ashram was a great way to relax and focus on the project.
Figure 6 Tranquillity
The place was beautiful, extremely “Instagram-worthy” but more than that, it was extremely peaceful and calming. The serenity felt at the ashram was something that cannot be bought with money. Plus, the locals at the ashram were so hospitable and made us feel so at home!
Figure 7 "Hey! Help me take OOTD leh!"
All good things come to an end and sadly, 14 days in Thailand flew by like a dream. LEX is not just a trip to complete a module, it is a trip where we got to know people from other countries and to be part of their culture. It is a trip that has been filled with a lot of memories and experiences which are extremely valuable and definitely cannot be taught in school. In all, LEX4 with RMUTT was a huge eye-opener for myself and I’m so grateful to be able to embark on this project with such an amazing team in a beautiful city like Bangkok, Thailand.
Figure 8 New friends made, bonds that will not break.