It all started while we (Vegar Aabrek and Ingvild Forseth) were closing in on the finishing line of our project in the 9th semester at NTNU. In that same period, we had to make a decision on whether we wanted to continue with our current project or if we wanted to choose something new. Both of us had a wish to do something out of the norm for our master thesis. This led to us contacting the NTNU IUG chapter. IUG told us that there were no currently planned projects suitable for students from the Engineering Cybernetics department, but that they knew of one professor at our department that had worked with IUG previously. Thus, our next step was to contact Professor Marta Molinas and set up a meeting. In the meeting Molinas told us about two projects she knew of in Columbia. Her contact was Maximiliano Bueno-Lopez. At that time, he was working with Molinas at NTNU although still holding a professor position in Bogota, Colombia. Through a new meeting with both Molinas and Lopez we learned that the two projects were both related to solar power generation in two separate indigenous communities located in Cauca municipality. One of these projects where in the finishing stage, but still had some funding left. The other project had a pending application for funding from the Columbian government. To keep our options open, two master thesis project description were written, such that if the new project gained funding we would be able to that while if the funding fell through we could still work on the already funded project. The wish was to see a project from start to finish. The preliminary project description of the project in the that already had funding read as follows:
“Firstly, the existing production process system based on solar energy in the Calle Santa Rosa indigenous reservoir in Colombia will be studied and modelled. The aim is to research the implementation of different sensors in the system, enabling sensor fusion, and also look at the possibility of further development of the system. Future development would involve adding new power sources to the system and handle them in an optimal way. The sensor fusion part also includes presentation of the results in an efficient way, a monitoring system, which by the use of graphical user interfaces would enable the community to manage the system themselves in a sustainable way.”
Fast forward a month. Our projects are delivered and its January. The funding for the new project fell through and a decision had been made for us. We grabbed the first opportunity to start working. 4th of January to be precise. This would give us 22 weeks to the deadline. As with the start of any project, and especially so after being absorbed in our last project the previous semester, the start felt quite chaotic. The focus was gathering information about the community and the currently implemented system that we wished to monitor. In this respect Lopez was invaluable, sourcing all the information he could find. Ranging from project reports from previous students to tech specifications of the components and pictures from the community in Calle Santa Rosa. We were lucky having Molinas helping us keep organized by setting weekly deadlines for our progress with meetings to keep her in the loop.
While working on the project we kept in contact with IUG to make sure the progress of turning our master into a “Master med Mening” was moving along. Most of the work was done by Lopez, acting as the contact for the University of La Salle which was our partner organization in Columbia, and Molinas as the contact for NTNU and her organization RenPeace.
In the beginning of February, the IUG NTNU chapter invited us to hold a presentation about our project for students that has shown an interest in writing a future “Master med Mening”. We represented the segment of ongoing projects. There was also a presentation by Haakon Duus and the project he finished in 2015. This turned out to be a good opportunity to talk to him face to face as his work had already been a big part of our source material. After the presentations were finished, the hard core of the spectators peppered us with questions on how we had started our process towards a “Master med Mening”. We happily obliged by answering all we could.
The progress of our application with IUG started slowing down after the focus shifted to the security situation in Columbia. While the situation with the FARC guerilla was resolved in 2015 through a peace agreement between the Columbian government and FARC, the responsibility of La Salle university had to be resolved together with the Colombian government. This turned out to be a lengthy proses and something that would remain unresolved until the very last moment. This uncertainty of whether there would be any field trip at all lead us to apply for a one-month extension on our delivery date. This preemptive action would give us enough time to travel if the issues were resolved.
Lopez had a planned trip to Colombia in April and our hope was his presence in Columbia could help speed up the process. Thus, a tentative departure date was set to be the 18th of May.
In April we were making good progress, but our hopes for a field trip were waning. We had instead set a goal of getting Lopez to gather data for us at the community as a last resort. Now we worked towards delivering the project within the original deadline. At this point we had firmly decided on the scope of our project. Our goal was now twofold: The first and most important task was to enable the community to know how much power was left in the batteries of their refrigeration center. The secondary mission would be to enable them to predict how many of the six refrigerators they could be running for the next 24 hours without getting to a critical battery level. These two objectives would be accomplished by running a webserver with an interface on a Raspberry Pi (RPi). The RPi would also be capable of running a quick 24-hour simulation to predict the power consumption and production of their system.
Suddenly, at the end of April, like lightning from a clear sky, at least for us, IUG approved our application. Now everything happened at once. New dates were set to be 26th of may to 10th of June. We lucked out by getting the last available slot for vaccines and tickets had to be bought. Our focus shifted from writing the thesis to getting all the practical elements working. Enclosures for hardware had to be 3D printed or fabricated and code was changed in order to facilitate changing parameters easier in the field. We also had to complete an online safety course.