Artikkel skrevet av Vegar Aabrek og Ingvild Forseth om deres Master med Mening-oppdrag i Colombia, i samarbeid med NTNU, RenPeace og Universidad de La Salle:
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.
The plan for our stay in Columbia was staying in Bogota the first week so that we could prepare everything for our trip to Calle Santa Rosa. We would work in the community for four days before returning to Bogota and spending the remaining days working on a paper for the GHTC 2018 conference, explaining our project.
When we landed in Bogota Lopez met us at the airport whereupon he brought us to our accommodations. To our surprise the accommodation turned out to be two individual rooms with on suite bathrooms at one of the university campuses. As planed the first week revolved around working with scattered sightseeing when going out for lunch and dinner with other students and professors. Here we also had the opportunity to meet the two students (Alejandro Muñoz Rincón and Karen López) from La Salle that would accompany us and Lopez to the community. Their task was to help us with the installation procedure and to be sorely needed translators. Our Spanish was just not up to par.
Some of the preparations we had to make was for instance to plan what to bring. We had a 10Kg limitation on one of the aircrafts to the community. Therefore, we had to limit what tools, equipment and personal belongings we could bring.
Our trip to Calle Santa Rosa consisted of first taking a plane to Cali and then taking another smaller plane to Timbiqui. From Timbiqui we had a 1-hour boat ride through the jungle before reaching the community. In Timbiqui we were met by two representatives from the community who would drive the boat. After having a traditional lunch with them at a local restaurant we went shopping for food, water, and mosquito nets. After finishing the shopping round in the city, we ended up with five mosquito nets, more than enough clean drinking water and enough rice, eggs, and canned tuna to already look forward to a real meal when we would come back.
The trip up the river proved highly enjoyable. The path varied from very wide to super narrow. Here we saw many smaller settlements as well as one larger “village” that is only 15 minutes from Calle Santa Rosa. The areas we passed through used to be heavily influenced by FARC, but are now much safer for foreigners and Colombians alike.
When we finally arrived in Calle Santa Rosa we were greeted by the community leader who showed us to the classroom on the second floor in the school where we would sleep and have our base for the next four days. The rest of that evening we spent setting up our mosquito nets and making our first of many meals consisting of rice and tuna. At this point it should be noted that our food choices stemmed experiences Lopez had on previous visits to the community where one student got sick, possibly from the water used for cooking.
The following day we spent our time getting our equipment up and running. That is, a raspberry pi connected to a current sensor. This turned out to be more work than imagined. First of all we had network hardware issues we had not foreseen. In addition to a sudden sensor malfunction. Those two problems took us over a day to solve before we were finally ready to install our components in the fuse box of the refrigeration center. Finally having this installed would enable us to do usability testing of the interface as well as doing measurements to tweak our theoretical load profile. The physical installation was not done until the afternoon the day before we would leave. We turned out to be very unlucky. A period of low solar irradiation meant that the system was now completely out of power and we were not able to do any measurements. This meant that we had to do the measurements, analyze those measurements, edit the load profile and do the usability test before our boat left at 14 the very last day. We did manage to get to the finish line, but it was close.
Needless to say, the whole experience was a lot of work from morning to night. And if there is one thing we have learned from the experience it is that its better to have to much equipment than too little when working in such rural areas. Be prepared for anything. We thought we were. We weren’t. Lesson learned.