Young Makers Contest teams hard at work on green innovations
leading up to Maker Faire Bangkok 2019
How often do you buy your favorite drink, and the vendor hands you a plastic cup, with a plastic straw, in a plastic bag? The average Thai person uses around 100 plastic bags a year, resulting in the annual national disposal of 70 billion plastic bags. Of the 27 million tons of solid waste Thailand generated in 2016, less than half was properly disposed of or recycled, and less than one-fourth was handled in alignment with international best practices.
The repercussions of such practices are felt by Thailand and the wider world alike. The Chao Phraya river in Bangkok is one of the most polluted in the world, marked as “critical” condition by the Pollution Control Department (PCD). In the coastal provinces, one million tons of garbage are dumped into the sea each year, consisting of 15 percent plastic bags, 7 percent plastic straws, and 5 percent cigarette butts. Globally, just five countries—Thailand, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam—generate 60% of all plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
What’s more is that the problem is projected to grow; Wichan Simachaya, the director-general of the PCD, estimates that Thailand’s waste volume will continue to increase by 600,000 tons each year. Thai society must pursue widespread behavioral change as well as explore systems for better waste management to avoid jeopardizing ecological stability for future generations.
Fortunately for Thailand, many young Thais are looking at environmental challenges with fresh eyes. For this year’s Enjoy Science: Young Makers Contest theme of “green innovation,” students have made prototypes for machines that can incentivize everyday consumers to recycle by dispensing money to users, improve the ease of government trash pickup with sensors, screen toxic gases with new materials, and promote public health by repelling rodents with high frequency sound.
Of hundreds of project proposals from teams of general and vocational education students across Thailand, 60 teams were invited in September to pitch their ideas before a judging panel of professional makers. Twenty finalist teams were granted 30,000 baht each to bring their inventions to life. For the past few months, all 20 teams have been hard at work on their machines, learning what they need to know under the guidance of school teachers, mentor makers, and online resources to realize their innovations.
Pantakan Nantiya from Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna (RMUTL) demonstration school was inspired when he watched a Swedish movie in which rubbish was bought and used for electric power generation. “If we can separate our waste properly,” he wondered, “can our country make money from selling garbage?”
Some teams have embraced the potential for new technologies in addressing the challenge of waste sorting. Rawin Aussabumrungrat and Patipol Tiyajamorn from Kamnoetvidya Science Academy in Rayong wrote in their proposal, “At present, the development of machine learning and computer vision raises the potential of robotics for the classification of waste. When it comes to accuracy, durability and consistency, humans cannot compete with robots.”
Kornkawin Punma from the Prince Royal’s College secondary school in Chiang Mai flipped the switch on the side of a grey garbage bin. “This is our Internet of Things [IOT] trash bin,” he announced, proudly showing how sensors could communicate with his phone through the messaging app Line.
Kantapat Anantruenglert from RoboMind Learning Center, whose team created a low-cost compost bin, notes that one challenge was to program a motor to increase ventilation to support the growth of microorganisms. His teammate Punnawich Ramingwong added, “Our compost machine is six times cheaper than similar ones in the market,” suggesting that more households could afford one in their homes.
As teams prepare to bring their final inventions back before the judges at Maker Faire Bangkok on January 19-20, 2019, students reflect on challenges overcome and lessons learned. To realize their invention, architecture students Thanatchaya Sandonthong and Wanichaya Thammapanya from RMUTL demonstration school entered their school’s mechanics shop for the first time, learning to weld metal to create their custom bicycle frame.
Thanatchaya commented, “The project opened my world to things quite different from what I’ve learned in class.” Given the opportunity to address real world issues, students have applied their knowledge and identified new areas of learning to complete their projects. Undoubtedly, each team has shown creativity worthy of commendation regardless of judges’ final decisions at the Maker Faire.
“I don’t care about the prize,” concluded Thanatchaya, “It’s a new life experience.”