Preliminary Research

As I am about to begin my internship in Humanitarian Robotics at Amrita University, I thought about doing some preliminary research about what already exists, and how people define these kind of technologies. I haven’t had much information about my project, which allows me to define a broad framework for what I would like to work on, while learning from already existing projects and organisations.

The program

I had met the director of the AMMACHI labs, Rao R. Bhavani, when she came to present Amrita university and Live-in-Labs programs at EPFL in October 2015. I was very interested in the programs, but couldn’t see how robotics would fit in. That is when she told me about the haptic (with force feedback) robots used for professional training of women. Robots, education and women empowerment? I’m in.
Less than a year later, here I am, in Amrita University, doing my first research about the project. Below quotations that should guide my work and links I found useful about appropriate technologies, engineering for development and agriculture.

Appropriate Technologies

Appropriate technology is an ideological movement (and its manifestations) encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally autonomous. It was originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher in his work Small is Beautiful. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered. (Wikipedia)

Appropriate Technology on Appropedia

Appropriate Technology projects should use local materials and people-power to fill needs identified by locals themselves. The process must be transparent and open-source to ensure it is replicable.

Technological Choice’s definition:

Indigenous people have a very specific way of deciding whether to integrate a new technology into their lives or not, which would likely qualify that technology as appropriate.

On the other hand, the developed world tends to assume that all technology is progress. This often leaves out important externalities and side effects of the new technology and its development, such as environmental and social impacts. Thus, we need to take a step back and better analyze whether new technologies are appropriate or not. Pachamama Website

One of the best-known early proponents and popularisers of appropriate technology was the British economist E. F. Schumacher, who talked about ‘intermediate technology’ in his book Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. He was principally concerned with development in low-income countries, and recommended a technology that was aimed at helping the poor in these countries to do what they were already doing in a better way. Schumacher’s intermediate technology had the following characteristics:

  • methods and machines cheap enough to be accessible to anyone;

  • small-scale application ; individual smallness allows nature to recover, is more sensible because human knowledge is patchy, and is an appropriate scale for self-help;

  • room for human creativity, as opposed to alienation and dehumanisation.

Technological Choice

Wicklein’s evaluation criteria:
  • Ability of technology to stand alone without additional support systems
  • Individual versus collective technology, with regard to which one the culture values
  • Cost of technology which takes into account full costs to social, economic, and environmental impacts
  • The risk factor including internal risks, that relate to the fit in local production systems and external risks, which relate to the needed support systems
  • Evolutionary capacity of technology, with regard to its capability of being reconfigured to grow with the society it benefits, whereby solving different problems that the community encounters
  • Single-purpose versus multi-purpose technology, where the latter refers to technology that has the ability to complete different tasks at the same time.

Reclaiming Sustainability Conference

Agricultural Tools

There are a number of appropriate technology principles that specifically concern agricultural tools. Such tools should be produced within the country, in part simply because of the large numbers involved. They must be repairable at the local level. With much of agriculture characterized by short intense periods of activity, farmers cannot afford delays caused by equipment failures.

FAO General principles for appropriate agricultural tools:

  • adapted to allow efficient and speedy work with the minimum of fatigue;
  • not injurious to man or animal;
  • of simple design, so that they can be made locally;
  • light in weight, for easy transportation (there are also considerable advantages when threshers, winnowers, and machines such as coffee hullers can be easily moved to where they are needed;
  • ready for immediate use without loss of time for preparatory adjustments;
  • made of easily available materials.

Appropriate agricultural tools and equipment should contribute to the broad objective of increasing the viability of the small farm. Where small farmers are currently employing traditional technologies that are inefficient, they often cannot improve this technology because of the leap in scale and capital cost to commercially available equipment. It is therefore the goal of intermediate technology proponents to help fill this gap with good quality tools and equipment that are affordable and suited to the scale of operations of the small farmers.

Sourcebook (many machine references listed)

Agricultural tools references
LifeTrac Open Source Tractor design
Open Source machinery could provide some valuable designs that I could study and maybe even adapt to my project!

Rice planting machines

Agricultural Machinery Database (FAO)

Direct Seeding techniques

Crops and cropping systems

POC21 Open-Source Bicitractor

Open Source Ecology : Machines Index

LifeTrac open source tractor

Open-Source Appropriate Technology

Much of the widespread poverty, environmental desecration, and waste of human life seen around the globe could be prevented by known (to humanity as a whole) technologies, many of which are simply not available to those that need it. This lack of access to critical information for sustainable development is directly responsible for a morally and ethically unacceptable level of human suffering and death. A solution to this general problem is the concept of open source appropriate technology or OSAT, which refers to technologies that provide for sustainable development while being designed in the same fashion as free and open source software. OSAT is made up of technologies that are easily and economically utilized from readily available resources by local communities to meet their needs and must meet the boundary conditions set by environmental, cultural, economic, and educational resource constraints of the local community

Appropriate Technology References

Appropriate Technology Sourcebook: access chapters by clicking on links on the right side of the webpage

Small is Beautiful (extract)

Engineering For Change Solutions Library

Practical Action empowering the poor through technology

No Tech Magazine

Permaculture References

Permaculture Voices Podcasts

Permaculture Research Institute

LLOOF e-learning platform

Other references

System of Rice Intensification

Agriculture for Impact: research done in Africa about ecological intensification and precision agriculture.

Planting seeds at the correct spacing allows for land to be used most efficiently as crops are given the necessary access to nutrients. This in turn, increases the overall yield with a minimum seed input requirement.

Results: Seed usage decreased from 50kg per hectare to 6kg per hectare. The average SRI yield for the 53 farmers who used the practices as recommended was 9.1 tonnes per hectare, 66% higher than the average for the control plots at 5.5 tonnes per hectare. The average yield on neighbouring rice fields where non-participating farmers used their own methods was 4.86 tonnes per hectare.

Limitations: labour increased from 161 to 251 person days and input costs were higher, increasing from $714 US in the control group to $820 US for SRI. On the other hand, the net revenue from SRI more than doubled: $1765 US per hectare for those that adopted SRI compared to $846 US per hectare for the control plots


Azolla Green Manure

Banana-Rice Intercroppping

Fish-Rice Intercropping


Guide Book for Rural Cottage and Small & Medium Scale Industries, Paddy Rice Cultivation

One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? &reading recommendations

All links visited on 21.09.2016

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