Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Profile - Amy Smith, MIT D-labs

Ms. Amy Smith is an instructor MIT's D-Lab which offers courses in Mechanical Engineering. But unlike the conventional engineering course or lab, Ms. Smith along with Ms. Bishwapriya Sanyal offer a course in which engineering students don't just learn the concepts of mechanical engineering, but go all the way to complete a product that addresses need of the under served communities of different parts of the world.

In a four-part course, the students start out ( in the "Design" part)learning about specific sectors of development that need to be addressed and the appropriate technology that can be applied. The second ("Development") part, is a combination of
  • lecture, which talks about various aspects of design like affordability, sustainability, design for manufacture and assembly,
  • Labs that offer experience on fundamentals like welding, circuit-boad design, CAD etc
  • Case studies and field trips to understand the needs of the people to who this product will eventually be useful
  • design review discussions to present and refine ideas of the product
The third ("Dissemination") part of the course focuses on brain-storming ideas to make the product that conceived by part-two to be "ready to roll", which includes making the product scalable, affordable and marketable. The fourth part executes what was conceived in part three.

In the process, her team has been successful in providing local solutions for local yet, problems local to a specific region as against trying to find a generic "one-size-fits-all" solution. The best example for this is offered by the following video of her presentation outlining a method of using sugarcane waste and biomass to produce a clean and efficient fuel thus providing a solution to the worst killer of children under five - household cooking smoke, but also to make the fuel at home using the abundant agricultural waste (this avoids cutting trees and cuts down on expenses in buying fuel) Truely amazing...and this is just one of the projects in MIT D-labs.

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