In my junior year at Michigan, I decided to join an engineering project team known as BLUElab Thailand – an organization that focuses on human-centered design and sustainable development. Throughout the school year project team members met on a weekly basis to prepare for our needs assessment trip by conducting background research on the specific region and understanding various components of design ethnography.
The BLUElab Thailand team was established in Spring of 2016, where a group of students traveled to Thailand and formed partnerships with Chiang Mai University’s to identify the needs of a target community. In this case, Mae Chan village – a district in Chiang Rai, was selected due to its proximity to Chiang Mai and the community leaders’ positive response to Dr.Paskorn’s work on flash flood detection system throughout the region.
After meeting up with Dr.Paskorn and his team of grad students at OASYS lab (Optimization Theory and Application System), we discussed disaster-related issues that Mae Chan villages face such as flash floods, wildfire, earthquakes, and air pollution. He then introduced us to the various sensors that he has deployed throughout the region. The most notable is the MixKey sensor, which utilizes an ultrasonic sensor to measure water levels along the Mae Chan river.
The collected data are then transmitted back to an open source platform, which can then be accessed by the public. Thus far, over thirty MixKey sensors have been installed around the region. By understanding the behavior of the Mae Chan river, a better flood prediction model can be developed to aid in disaster prevention as well as preparation.
Another alarming issue that has been raised is air pollution. Contrary to popular beliefs, there is just as much pollution in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as Bangkok. This is due to particulate matters (PM) produced from slash-and-burn agriculture and the burning of corn crop residue. These particulate matters, once inhaled, can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.
Keeping these topics in mind, our goal as a project team is to fully understand the needs of the Mae Chan community and form a strong partnership – allowing us to build a solid foundation for years to come.