I recently took a trip to Northern Thailand to support a volunteer effort at a school that serves a rural hill tribe. The project was backed by three Thai startups Knit by Jib, Drvr andBangkok Bike Finder. All outstanding startups that value the idea of doing social good and believe that education is a fundamental necessity.
This school itself isn’t to easy to get to. After taking an overnight train from Bangkok to Chaingmai we still had two days of travel ahead, including the last leg which was a three hour drive in a 4×4 truck through mountain roads and paths.
While I was visiting this village I was wondering how could I help this school through my specific set of knowledge and capabilities with the Internet of Things, there was just one issue. The village the school serves is completely off the grid, no power, no Internet and just to get a mobile signal you have to travel about 15km. How do you get the benefit of the IoT without actually having Internet, or power for that matter?
Well the power issues is fairly easy to address, this is Thailand after all and sun is one thing we have in abundance. There are a number of low power devices that can run via solar power and can be contained in a weatherproof case of some kind.
Of course there are solution in place for such lacks of connectivity, a device can cache data and then send it back up to the cloud later for analysis. Or a mobile device can be used to query sensors once they are in range to get real time data.
So, the tech solutions are there, now just finding out how IoT can help this school was the key. I spent a lot of time exploring the area around the school and talking with the teacher to assess what the school needs to help provide a better learning environment for the community they serve.
Water is really the primary concern for the school at this point. They can only get fresh water about five months out of the year. Water, being sort of essential for life and all, clearly moves to the top of the list. Knit by Jib is working on a project now that will help extend how high up on the stream the schools water is sourced from; which should allow them to get clean, fresh water year round.
Just because the IoT can’t physically bring the water to the school doesn’t mean it won’t have a role to play. I can envision sensors used for the water tanks at the school to measure level, letting the teacher know when they need to turn the valves on to fill the tanks, or even possibly some sensors to check water quality, I still have some more research to do on this front.
Another issues that the teachers face is nutrition, as the diet of the locals is very limited. It is often the case that the only balanced meal the students get each day is prepared by the teachers at school. To this end the teachers are currently running a school garden where they grow the food that is used in some of the students meals. An automated watering system linked to a soil moisture sensor seems to be a simple project that can be put together to help out in this regard. Of course because there is no electricity in this village the system would have to be solar powered so it could operate consistently, and then that whole system would need to be maintained. All are interesting challenges.
Ultimately it comes down to how much benefit can this school get from technology projects like this. Just installing them could help a little bit, but I am unsure how much benefit it would really be. I have been thinking that the biggest help these projects could accomplish would be as a learning experience for the children and maybe provide some inspiration along the way. The point of these projects and outreach is to benefits the school in its mission to provide quality education to this remote, rural area. I have a lot more thought to put into this before I can decide what, if any benefit can be offered through technology. I will be sure to post more here as I work through ideas.