On March 30, the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program at Arizona State University (ASU), a national, award-winning, social entrepreneurship program, held its EPICS Elite Pitch Competition for Spring 2022. The EPICS Elite Pitch Competition, powered by the eSeed Challenge, is a chance for the top EPICS student teams to compete for additional funding to deliver and sustain their innovations. Eight teams out of the sixty teams in the program competed by presenting their projects to a panel of four expert judges and an audience of over one hundred students, faculty, and industry members. Each team pitched their solution and implementation plan to win part of the $10,000 in funding being awarded that evening. The judges asked teams grueling questions to determine which teams they found most deserving of the award and most likely to deliver their solution within the next 6-12 months. After deliberation, four of the eight teams received funding and their spot as one of the EPICS Elite teams of 2022. 

Project Koyash won first place among the teams and was awarded $6,000 in funding. They partner with the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families to provide air filters for nomadic communities in Mongolia. Due to climate change and drought, major food sources have been diminished for these communities in Mongolia which has forced them to relocate to the overpopulated city of Ulaanbaatar. Due to petroleum product burning, wood-burning stoves, industrial companies, and the large population, the air in Ulaanbaatar has a high amount of air pollution in the city, making the air unhealthy to breathe. The team’s goal is to filter the air within the homes of these nomadic communities so that the air in their homes is safe for them to breathe. They have delivered one prototype to their community partner in a pilot test to collect data. The team is now testing their second prototype which is completely autonomous and will use their new funding from EPICS Elite to create 12 (the total of the homes they are partnering with) filters to send to Ulaanbaatar. Students Sarah Johnston, Shamsher (Shami) Warudkar, Bryan Yavari, Malone Roark, Aniket Chatterjee, Tommy Montero and Jalen Goode, and Catherine Johnston are working hard to successfully reach these goals with the new funding they received.

The second-place team, Vietnam Smart Agriculture, was awarded a total of $2,500 to help fund their future project expenses.

The Vietnam Smart Agriculture teams starts outside of ASU’s Engineering Student Center holding their prototype. From left, Mahir Al-Hassen, Carlos Moran-Esparza, Eric Weissman, Justin Weidmann.

Farming accounts for 13% of Vietnam’s GDP, with 80% of the total water production in the country being used for agriculture purposes, according to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam. The country is suffering from inefficient water usage. By partnering with rural farmers in Vietnam, the team is hoping to increase the efficiency and sustainability of water usage for small farming in Vietnam. For their prototype, they have created a hand-held device that measures different aspects of the soil such as moisture content, temperature and more. They have also been working on creating an app for farmers to use to receive alerts about changes in their crops’ soil. Their goal is to encourage more sustainable irrigation habits to reduce water usage for farmers. The team plans to use their funding to purchase new materials to test the structural integrity of their prototype. Some team members will be traveling to Vietnam in August to research and collect data and test their prototype.

The Vietnam Shrimp Farming team stands outside of ASU’s Engineering Center holding their prototype. From left, Anastasia Ivanova, Shreshth Dembla, Andre Ellini, Quinell Omar Benally, Zahra Husrieh, Alyssa Dong, Carol Lu.

Tied for third were the Vietnam Shrimp Farming and Navajo Mountain Bike Initiative teams who each received $1,000 in funding. The Vietnam Shrimp Farming team partners with Alex Downs, a subject matter expert living in Vietnam, to decrease the mismanagement of aquaculture in Vietnam, specifically shrimp farming. Poor water quality is a detrimental issue in shrimp farming. Many shrimp farmers’ livelihood is based on the successful harvest of their shrimp and it can bankrupt families if their shrimps are diseased. When shrimp are infected with diseases, the whole pond they live in must be discarded. The team is creating a floating device that connects to a smartphone app to alert farmers when there are changes in their shrimp’s water chemistry. The team said, “It is central to our project to ensure we do not encroach upon their livelihoods and their knowledge of the industry; we would like to respect their experience as farmers, which is an experience that almost none of the current team members have.” The team strives to give the shrimp farmers a tool to allow them to more rapidly react to changing water chemistry. They will be sending several team members to Vietnam in August to see first-hand how their design is working and learn how they could alter it to further benefit the farmers. The team will use their funding to test their prototype and begin planning the next iteration of their design.

The Navajo Mountain Bike Initiative partners with Engineers Without Borders to build a mountain bike circuit trail also known as bike pump tracks, and bike trails in the Navajo Nation. These bike pump tracks are constructed of dirt for cost savings. The team and their community partner are building them on Navajo K-12 school campuses so that they will be available to the students as part of the schools’ physical education program. The skill and energy to ride one of these tracks to its potential is surprising, said Gregory Rodzenko from Engineers Without Borders. The people of the Navajo Nation work with the team to understand their culture and the best opportunities to work with the community to implement solutions. The cross-country mountain bike trails the team is working on are intended to be the engine for economic development. These trails can be from point to point or in loops. A loop trail might be 1 to 5 miles whereas point-to-point trails could be up to 15 to 20 miles long. 

The Navajo Mountain Bike Team poses with their prototype.

With low impact economic development on the reservation, this would enable Navajo residents to live and work on the reservation instead of leaving the reservation to find work. The trails are oriented towards economic development by promoting tourism and bringing in money through parking fees, lodging, food and other expenses tourism brings to a community. They have also received bike and helmet donations from REI to donate to the community pump tracks built by the team. The team has a trip planned in the fall to bring these bikes and helmets to donate to the community. They are hoping to start working on their Shonto bike trail next semester. They plan to focus their funding on building bike trails because it is something that will bring in greater income opportunities to the community and will be sustainable over time.