Service Learning Projects

Lab in a Suitcase

Lab in a Suitcase

The Lab in a Suitcase brought eBooks, Wikipedia and different kinds of offline applications to under-privileged kids or students in rural area. The lab is built on a central server approach, deploying a Raspberry PI server with e-resources such as e-books, a children’s Wikipedia and a content management system. A wireless router provides access to the resources on the server. A single charge gives the lab enough power to run for 5 hours. In Hong Kong, our students worked to set up the lab server and tested the mobile devices.

They also designed and created a number of e-books that the children would be able to access by scanning a QR code on an illustrated “menu”. The Hong Kong NGO WebOrganic donated some resources of their own and helped us to contact the Hong Kong telecommunications company CSL, who kindly donated 30 devices from their stock of former demo models. All of this equipment is housed in two video equipment suitcases that have been modified to accommodate and power the devices.

For transportation of the lab, we secured enough donations to buy a tuktuk (a motorized tricycle), and had the transportation end customized to fit our requirements, including a secure storage area for the lab and ease of loading/ unloading the equipment. The Cambodia YMCA staff has been trained to maintain the use the mobile equipment, and also to teach the schoolchildren using the resources in the lab and on the server. An agreement has also been made with them to continue bringing the lab to the school at regular intervals (e.g. 1-2 times a week) even after our project is over. [more]

A $9.99 Robot

9.99 Robot

Robotics have also found widespread acceptance in education, and they are used to teach kids anything from computer science to engineering to physics. They have the advantage of being able to demonstrate complex logical concepts in a tangible and exciting manner. Since the commercial robots are too expensive, we gave ourselves a challenge: to build a robot that would cost less than US $10. This was inspired by the $100 laptop from the “One Child Per Laptop” program, and we felt that it would be a good challenge for our students: how to design and build appropriate technology products “for the other 99%”.

This project involves elements of electronic engineering, computing, product design and usability. The resulting robot makes heavy use of open-source platforms and frameworks. It includes a small and fixed set of sensors that allows the robots to perform tasks such as line detection, light seeking (or avoiding), and obstacle avoidance tasks, which (from experience) constituted almost 90% of the tasks used in teaching innovative technology.

To allow the children some degree of creativity, we left slots to accommodate additions to the robot, either of cardboard cut-outs, or additional PCB boards. Programming the robot is done via the opensource IDE for Arduino, on top of which we developed additional modules customized for robot control.

With a lot of help from all our students, the $9.99 robot was completed in time for the Cambodia Service Learning project and used to teach innovative technology and problem solving to the orphans at the House. [more]

Solar Lights

Lab in a Suitcase

Cambodia has plentiful sunlight all year round, and an unstable electricity grid. Taken together, solar powered lights seemed like an ideal solution, and our task was to design and build a set of solarpowered lights for the Happyland Orphanage.

This project required our students to integrate electrical engineering and product design concepts together with appropriate technology and usability. Instead of off-the-shelf solutions, our students chose to design their own light to best fit the requirements of the orphanage, and the challenges of the environment (such as the rough handling expected from children, and the torrential rainstorms).

Our final solution was a small, portable, integrated light with solar panels that could be carried out into the open to recharge during the day, and taken indoors at night to study by. The cases are waterproofed against downpours, and padded appropriately to withstand both a drop test and a bash test. To address the challenges of usability and robustness, a tilt switch was incorporated to turn on the light automatically when the whole case is tilted to the optimum angle for desk lighting. [more]