eXtensions - Saturday 8 April 2023
By Graham K. Rogers
Last year a group of Mahidol University students were able to compete in the finals of Invent for the Planet. This year, another team is preparing to compete in the 2023 finals at Texas A&M University in mid-April. The group of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering students have high hopes with their Disasterisk Spot solution for re-establishment of communications after a disaster.
Every year Texas A&M organizes an international event with universities and colleges round the world: Invent for the Planet. Over one weekend, students at the separate events form groups, identify a problem that appeals to them and try to come up with a workable solution. Participating campuses round the World are linked by live video feeds so students can communicate with their peers and discuss the problems.
Students from Mahidol University in Thailand have joined Invent for the Planet for the last few years. Many of the students have come from the Faculty of Engineering as it appeals to their innate design capabilities and is a practical way to use the theoretical skills they have learned. Not all of those who take part are engineers. There have been some worthwhile efforts from students of other faculties. Invent for the Planet is not just about a winning solution: the weekend tasks bring in teamwork, analysis, discussion, and a work ethic. Many students do well in a pressure-cooker environment.
The limited time to develop a solution, produce prototypes, then create a presentation with a video that sells the ideas effectively, brings about an unusual focus. The 48 hours leave the students exhausted, but with a sense of having achieved something: of having improved themselves, even if they are not winners.
Each year, the best project, chosen by a team of judges, is entered into the main contest, with a chance to present the work at Texas A&M University. Last year (2022), during lockdown conditions in Thailand, the winning team at the Mahidol University event was chosen for the finals in the USA. The group was young (first and second year students) and although they made a great effort - English is not their native language - and were not victorious, in their hearts they were winners, gaining recognition for the Faculty of Engineering, for Mahidol University, and for Thailand.
The winners of the Mahidol event this year, a joint team of Biomedical (BIO) and Electrical Engineering (EE) students, faced a strong selection of successful projects from the events held in other countries. There were three teams from South-east Asia, one from Pakistan, others from Europe, the USA, the Middle East and from South Africa. Six teams were invited to the finals in Austin: the Mahidol team with their Disasterisk Spot solution to restore communications to an area hit by disaster was one of these. To say they were excited is a massive understatement.
The students only had a short time to prepare documentation for the trip which will take place a few days before the main event. The finals run from 18-20 April. Waiting for appointment slots for their visas to the USA caused much tension, but these were granted in time. In the interim, as well as their studies, they have made improvements to the project and honed the presentation.
The students (left to right) are Panuwat Ruengbenjasakul (EE), Vittawat Sootawee (BIO), Pinit Maiteesakulkeeree (EE),
Veerapan Veerawatkaiwan (EE), Sirapakit Limtragooltongchai (BIO) and Korrawit Suwan (BIO): Photo - Somnida Bhatranand.
The group has been lucky enough to receive some sponsorship from a local company, CH. Karnchang PLC, a leading Thai construction company. Subsidiaries of CH. Karnchang run a large hydroelectric power plant in Laos and have built major expressway routes in Thailand. The students also have support from Mahidol University Foundation and the Faculty of Engineering Alumni Association. There is support, too, from the Student Affairs Division of the University, The International Relations Division, and from several private donors. The Faculty of Engineering also provided generous support.
The local event is now firmly established in the calendar. We look forward to more support as it evolves. With a good result in 2022, the students and the University are hoping for more this year. Fingers are crossed.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)
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