Once again, another batch of students are encountering Project Work for the first time in their lives and fearing for it. I'm looking into the two questions and providing a bit of guidance on how to go about tackling them much like what I did for the students last year (here and here).
This year's question follows the standard PW format; which goes by the 'research-then-implement' structure. The point is always to get you to study a particular issue/topic/area and then make use of your findings to design an implementable plan with specific actions. Likewise, both questions are usually similar or overlapping to a certain extent. They are quite general as usual and allows much room and space for creativity - something we Singaporeans seem to be mocked for lacking.
The Eureka Moment
This project task encourages you to explore the world of invention and/or discovery in a particular field and then use your findings to benefit the community
Identify an invention/discovery in a particular field (eg. in science and technology, medicine, transport, design and construction, consumer goods and services, etc.) and show what its impact has been.
Suggest how your chosen invention/discovery could be adapted to meet a need in the community.
This first question deal with inventions or discovery and obviously you have lots of them to choose from; select something you're interested in and with information available, preferably something that has been implemented somewhere or tried out and you can use the results of the trial to justify your plan. I would advise you to start off with identifying the invention/discovery before trying to think of a need in the community to be met by it. Starting with the need could be challenging. Once you've got your invention/discovery; ask yourself the following:
- What are the impacts of the discovery/invention?
- What is the original motivation/intent behind the discovery or invention?
- How is it applied in the real world? Does it solve a problem, improve on an aspect of life?
- Who does the invention/discovery help? Where and when was it used?
- Is there any side-effects, unintended consequences, dangers?
- Can the invention/discovery be adapted to a similar community in Singapore or around us? How can you reduce any risk that comes with applying the invention/discovery? What kind of difference can you make with this adoption?
Something interesting people might want to look into is that of robots; I recently took notice of this invention, 'Paro the seal', which is a social robot designed to accompany elderly. It could meet the need of an ageing population with lonely elderly folks perhaps. And Sherry Turkle voiced some concerns about this.
Now we move on to the next task option.
Waste Not, Want Not
This project task encourages you to consider the issue of wastage in a particular area and to suggest ways to reducing such wastage.
Identify an area (eg. of any natural resource, money, time, food, opportunity, etc.) where wastage takes place and show the present and future impact of such wastage.
Draw up a plan to highlight the problem to a specific group in the community and suggest ways in which they might reduce the wastage.
Now this task deals more specifically with a kind of problem. Still, wastage can be on anything so there's much scope for exploration. 'Wasted opportunity' alone can practically be anything. Choose something that can be wasted but that waste can also be salvaged or put into some other better use then the way it is used now.
- Why is it wasted at present? How does this waste arise? (Eg. Banana peels waste emerges from consumption of bananas)
- How is the waste currently treated? Ignored/Disposed? Used but not efficiently?
- Is there any residual value in the waste? Does the waste actually have value elsewhere? (Eg. Cow dung might be waste to the cow but fertilizers for the farmers)
- Is there a mechanism for us to bring this residual value from one party (the one who wastes it) to the other (the one who needs it)?
- Is there any cost involved in this transfer? Can we design a mechanism for that specific group in the community who can make use of the waste?
- What would be the impact of reducing this wastage? Who benefits and how can the impact affect the society at large?
Being based in London for my studies now; I could suggest looking into expired food and consumer products in supermarkets. You could do a project to survey the wasted perishable food that are disposed by supermarkets (like fresh vegetables, fruits, microwaved food, sushi, baked items, etc) every so often. And then a solution could be something like what is used in British supermarkets; that is to reduce the prices of these goods as they approach expiry date so that the supermarket can clear the stocks while recouping some of their cost and reduce wastage at the same time. I have not seen this in supermarkets in Singapore so it might be worthy to look into this.
Please try not to end up copying the suggested ideas because if you can see this post, a thousand over other students or more would see it and your tutors too, would be able to see this set of guidance and possibly use it for their class.
All the best!
As businesses set out to look for the next big thing, there are plenty of stuff we already have that needs to be improved and would have a huge market out there.
For a full decade, laptop computers have been improved continuously, getting slimmer, with more processing power packed into them and lighter batteries invented to match the shrinking size of these machines - but alas, there was little improvements made to the power adapters. Beyond Apple's 'Magsafe' power adapter innovation and their attempts to shrink the size of the clunky component, the computing and engineering world appeared to have little interest in improving the peripherals of computing that were still unfriendly to users.
Which is why I'd applaud Min-Kyu Choi's three-pin plug design. Folding neatly from a standard 3-pin layout to a little slice no thicker than a MacBook Air was already quite a design feat. Even more amazing was the improved multi-plug system that makes great use of the wonderful folded design. It compacts the typical bulky design into the size of a single typical plug that we use today. This guy is a total genius.
And so is the 'A Liter of Light' project in the Philippines. The video demonstrates how a simple and elegant solution can make a huge difference to the lives of people.
Baring the occasional breakthrough that perhaps take years to be widely adopted and to start revolutionizing the economy, incremental innovations and even seemingly petty ones like latest version of Yosion's Apple Peel that turns your typical iPod Touch into a iPhone 4 are the staples that helps to keep the economy humming.
Intellectual Property is becoming an important area of contention that needs to be closely studied by lawyers, economists and governments around the world. Every IP case have deep implications for the general welfare of the society (for important innovations and inventions), the meaning of property and the ways laws can protect them. From Free Exchange Blog at The Economist, I learnt the story of Ralph Anspach's battle against Parker Brothers, the owners of the world famous Monopoly game.
Professor Ralph invented Anti-Monopoly, a game much like the Monopoly with its principles somewhat reversed where in its original version, players start off with monopolies and try to get to the free market state. In the latest version of the game, players get to choose to be either free-marketters or monopolist. In any case, he spent a lifetime battling Parker Brothers and researching the origins of the true, original Monopoly game (and how the capitalists were indeed true to the principles of the game).
Governments have to engage in design of laws that allows for Intellectual Property rights to be enforced but in a way that allows further innovation so that there are incentives to make improvements to existing innovations or discover mash-ups that utilizes stuff under IP protection. Economists have to consider the balancing of these incentives and how different ways of enforcing IP laws would alter the innovation patterns of the environments governed. Joseph Stiglitz happened to pen some of his musings on this issue on Project Syndicate.
It is interesting to note, as the Free Exchange Blog entry mentioned, that board games are countercyclical products. This is true for comfort foods as well, ranging from chocolates, candies to lollipops and other treats for those with a sweet tooth as mentioned in the recent Fortune Magazine.