Weekly Recap: The Internet of Bins

The past few weeks have been really exciting: we’ve been brainstorming around our three problems, coming up with new concepts, then narrowing down said concepts + fleshing out our final (gasp) concept moving forward. We’ve also been busy preparing our presentation + subsequently presenting it at Cisco (for our buddies in Amsterdam and Barcelona). Oh, and celebrating Diwali! Happy Diwali to everyone out there who has spent the past week lighting copious amounts of firecrackers in the morning, noon and night, and really, just indulging to the maximum (but hey, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?).

A (neat) first brainstorm of concepts for our three questions.
A (neat) first brainstorm of concepts for our three questions.

First, a refresh: our three problems from the last sprint were: 1) How can we encourage citizens to see ‘unprofitable’ e-waste as a resource to interrupt the cycle of e-waste disposal? 2) How can we improve awareness about e-waste among citizens so that they become responsible actors in the system? And 3) How can we change the negative perception of the informal sector among citizens, so that more waste is handled through green streams?

One of the weirder ideas from our brainstorms: E-waste the haunts you.
One of the weirder ideas from our brainstorms: E-waste the haunts you.

We gave ourselves a goal of creating around 100 concepts that address the problems, and used different methods to brainstorm. From the dictionary method – you pick a random word out of the dictionary and have to use it as a starting-point for your idea (it’s harder than it looks people) – to SCAMPER (which is on MediaLAB’s toolkit) to reversal (you pretty much write down what could make the problem worse… then flip these ideas on their heads. It wasn’t the most successful method), we gave pretty much anything a go. Eventually, we came up with 70+ concepts and were faced with the next task: deciding on just one idea (cue horror music, zombie apocalypse sort of an image).

The many, many ideas for a platform.
The many, many ideas for a platform.

We were able to sort our concepts into a few categories: ideas that were primarily visual (such as illustrating the informal sector as superheroes to give their image a positive spin), ones that were more physical (i.e. creating electronic-free spaces in the city), ideas around open data (which mostly involved tracking e-waste), different sorts of games (one was a board game like Operation, where you “operate” on an old phone) and ones that were suitable for a platform. It was difficult, but by taking elements from different ideas and combining them, we came up with what we’re going to be working on for the rest of the project: a physical bin + digital platform that we’ve decided to call (for now, at least… people apparently either love or hate the name) the Internet of Bins.

Say hello to the IoB.
Say hello to the IoB. Patent pending.

The first component of our solution is a (IoB enabled!) physical bin installed in public spaces. It allows citizens to come and drop off their waste at a location that’s convenient for them – they are then given a ticket identifying their waste. When the sensors in the bin detect it being full, a local collector is notified and dispatched to come and collect the waste from the bin. This is where the tracking begins.

Mapping out the user flows for the platform.
Mapping out UX flows for the platform.

This is just one channel for entering waste into the system. Citizens can also schedule collections through the platform, allowing a local collector to come and pick up waste at a time that’s convenient for them. Once the waste has been collected, it is forwarded onto a recycler. The user can see on the platform the timeline of the waste’s journey through the system – this includes which collector/recycler has handled their waste and more importantly where their waste has gone. Recyclers enter information about whether waste was recycled, donated to a makerspace or (hopefully not!) sent to a landfill. This makes the process of collecting and recycling waste completely transparent – boosting confidence from the citizen that the people that handle their waste use ethical practices.

Initial illustrator UX flows. This is one set of about four...
Initial Illustrator versions of UX flows. This is one set of about four…

One of the main hurdles in adopting this solution in the Indian context is incorporating the informal sector. We’re hoping that by partnering with Hasirudala (a cooperative of informal waste pickers), we’ll be able to leverage the skillset and outreach of the informal sector, and be able to channel the 95% of waste that they currently handle into a platform that is much more transparent. In this way, the platform will help to improve the perception of the informal sector, whilst increasing waste collection amounts overall. We feel this solution addresses the 3 problems we outlined in the previous sprint, creating an impact on the ground that is measurable. Beyond incorporating the informal sector, there are still other design challenges to overcome, such as how to portray the informal sector as ‘formalized’, or simply: legitimate. Also, as we have a wide variety of actors within the system, we need to consider how we can design a user interface that is usable for people who may be illiterate and not familiar with digital technologies. Finally, we still have a bit of a hurdle in designing a secure, sustainable bin, which is suitable for a public space (we’re worried that putting bins in parks could lead to e-waste robbery… don’t you think?) Whew. That was a lot of new information to throw out there, but the fact remains: we’ve got our concept down, and as of now, we’ve running with it.

Amsterdam and Barcelona skype chats at Cisco!
Amsterdam and Barcelona skype chats at Cisco!

As for our Cisco meeting, there were thumbs-up moments: Amsterdam and Barcelona love the name (who would’ve thought) and they also felt that our project has a measurable impact on the cycle of e-waste. They also asked some important question (how will we gain a captive audience?), which we’ll have to consider moving forward. If you want to check out the ideas from Amsterdam, check out their blog here.

At the Dutch Computable Awards, 2015: MediaLAB + FoV are honoured for Design Across Cultures!
At the Dutch Computable Awards, 2015: MediaLAB + FoV are honoured for Design Across Cultures!

Alright, long post, but hopefully you’ve got the main takeaway: we’ve got a game plan now, and we’re excited to start the next challenge of making, making and more making for the next few months! Stay tuned for more updates on our blog. Til next time…

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