What would happen if half a million engineers from around the world applied their skills toward solving problems in their community? That’s the goal behind the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT). This year the program celebrates its five-year anniversary.
SIGHT helps connect IEEE members and other volunteers who want to help underserved communities. The groups partner with local organizations to help them achieve their mission. The program provides the volunteers with free training and webinars on implementing humanitarian projects, plus up to US $20,000 for each project.
To date, some 3,100 volunteers have been involved in more than 100 SIGHT groups worldwide.
Just in time for its anniversary, SIGHT will release a report that explains the key milestones and projects from groups that have helped over the years.
“This is one of our first important milestones,” says Jackie Halliday, staff lead for SIGHT, in Piscataway, N.J. “If you look through the report, you can see the impact SIGHT has made across cultures and geographies over the past five years.”
Here are some of the successes.
SIGHT Colombia, one of the first groups formed, was established in 2012. The team’s first partner was the Dios Es Amor school outside Bogotá. The group helped design and teach engineering workshops for children, parents, and teachers with hands-on projects.
Since then, SIGHT Colombia has worked on three more activities.
It designed a household system to convert rainwater to drinking water. One of the systems was implemented for a school in southern Bogotá, and four students’ homes also received one.
The group created a waste-disposal system in partnership with nearby universities to improve sewer quality. The project is helping reduce water pollution, disease outbreaks, and land deterioration.
SIGHT Colombia used information and communications technologies to create robotics and computer programming courses for 65 children and teenagers with hearing disabilities. The participants use Lego robotics and the interactive android Nao to practice what they learn.
The SIGHT Uganda group began with six members in 2015 and now has 20. It is currently working to prevent neonatal fatalities.
The group partnered with Neopenda, a Chicago company that develops wearable monitors to check newborns’ vital signs. Together they worked with health clinics this year in Kampala, Uganda, to redesign the monitors at St. Francis Hospital Nsambya.
The new monitors are reusable and easier to clean, and their vital signs are wirelessly transmitted over Bluetooth Low Energy to a single electronic device. The SIGHT group also taught parents and health care workers at the hospital how the devices work and how they can help improve mortality rates.
SIGHT Uganda also developed metrics for evaluating its project’s impact, and it strengthened partnerships with local health-care providers.
After initial implementation, Neopenda and SIGHT Uganda brought 30 local engineers, technicians, and health care professionals together in August to brainstorm improvements for the monitors.
“The Ugandan communities have come to treasure humanitarian efforts made by engineers,” says IEEE Member Lwanga Herbert, chair of SIGHT Uganda. “Our new technology can also be replicated in other countries within the region.”
The Artisanal Deep-Sea Fishers (ADSF) SIGHT group in Madras, India tackled the dangers of deep-sea fishing, one of the country’s most treacherous occupations. Hundreds of fishermen die each year.
Seven IEEE members noticed in 2014 that India’s fishing industry lacked funding for researching and developing life-saving technology. Now ADSF SIGHT has 65 volunteers, and it works with local engineering students to create technologies.
The fishermen and students built a solar-powered lantern to address concerns such as lack of electricity while working at night. Late evening and night fishermen generally use Kerosene lamps and candles which are not as sustainable, Jain says.
Solutions include a solar-powered cart to transport fish to keep them fresh and a tracking system that enables fishermen to know the number of boats operating at sea within mobile phone range. The SIGHT group developed an electronic logbook to track the number of fish caught daily and the type of fish.
“Fisherman now have the confidence to come to our IEEE SIGHT group to help them address challenges they face,” said Vincent Jain, former chair of the ASDF group. “Students are getting certificates for their involvement in our SIGHT projects—which helps them find jobs after they graduate.”