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    Entries in design team (2)

    Wednesday
    Oct212015

    Meet the lotus

    What do you get when you mix one signature drink, a custom fountain display, 150+ people, and a spacious new art gallery in Yangon? A product launch; Proximity-style.

    On October 15, 2015, Design Team co-leaders, Taiei Harimoto and Ko Aung Ko Ko unveiled the Lotus, a radically affordable, solar-powered irrigation pump for low-income farmers in Myanmar.

    As Myanmar began opening in 2011, the agricultural landscape also experienced significant change. Cheap diesel engines from China flowed into the market and many farmers invested in them as a way to mechanize their operations, only to find them dirty, difficult to operate, and expensive to run. “This presented an opportunity for us,” Product Designer Taiei Harimoto explained during the product launch. “Our customers’ irrigation methods are no longer the same,” he continued, “which means that they have new needs that we can design for.”

    Having identified this opportunity, Proximity embarked on an intensive human-centered design process to create the Lotus, which is unlike any other solar-powered irrigation pump in the world. Designed specifically for the local market, it is a submersible pump that fits neatly into the two-inch (50 mm) wide tube-wells found commonly in rural Myanmar—at its widest, the Lotus is 49mm in diameter. When working at a depth of 24ft, the Lotus pump can yield over 15,000 liters of water per day. The Lotus is also likely to be the world’s most affordable solar pump, retailing at only US$345, which includes 260W of solar panels. Most solar irrigation pumps available on the market cost several thousand dollars.

    Most importantly, the Lotus makes sustainable farming easy. Although smallholder farmers each own only a few acres of land, they have an immense collective impact on the health of our food systems. The Lotus will provide Myanmar farmers with sustainable options that are also cost saving.

    The Design Team’s unveiling of the new product was followed by a spirited discussion of its specs and limitations: How long does the Lotus last? Lifecycle testing has shown that it will serve customers for at least two seasons. Will there be financing available for farmers who can’t afford the upfront cost? For the first sales season, Proximity is not offering financing, in part to gauge what the demand is for the product now and to determine what type of financing might be optimal for this product. How long is the payback period for farmers switching from diesel engines to solar-powered irrigation? Ten months on average, and the payback period is even shorter for farmers switching from treadle pumps to the Lotus.

    We want to thank everyone who joined to celebrate with us, and if you weren’t able to make it, we will be releasing a short film about the event and how the Lotus is made in Myanmar in the coming weeks!

    Tuesday
    Jul152014

    A Match Made in... Myanmar

     

    In the eye of the brain-storm. Photo courtesy of the Stanford d.school.

    These days, our design lab is filled with the sounds of running water and the clacking of robots testing pumps as our d-team puts the finishing touches on a breakthrough irrigation product we’ll be launching in September.  We’re working with Stanford’s Institute of Design on this project, and will soon be joined by two graduates for the summer. Andreas and Evram are the latest in a long list of talented individuals who’ve joined the Proximity Design team as the result of an ongoing, eight year long partnership with Stanford’s d.school. 

    In 2005, the Stanford d.school began offering a course called “Design for Extreme Affordability,” that challenged graduate students to develop well-designed products and services for the world’s most disadvantaged people. We embraced the course early on as one of its first ‘clients.’ At the time, foot-pumps were available in India and parts of Africa for over $100, and we needed to drastically reduce this price tag if our products were going to be affordable for Myanmar’s farmers. The first challenge we posed to a Stanford team was to create a pump for $25. The rest, as they say, is history.

    The entrance to the d.school and all things design-related. Photo courtesy of the Stanford d.school

    Over the course of eight years, Stanford teams have been instrumental in developing key products. It was a Stanford team that first drew inspiration from kiddy pools and suggested we design a freestanding water storage basket, which six years later became our “Sturdy Boy” water tank. It was a Stanford team that proposed the award-winning tri-pod frame structure that we ended up using in our HB4 pump, which in addition to completely re-thinking the structure of existing treadle pumps, also reduced its price to $25. Not only does Stanford have fast prototyping abilities that allow teams to make a lot of progress very quickly, the creativity of their students is constantly motivating us to push the envelope. Human-centered design is now at the core of what we do, due in part to the contagious innovative thinking of the d.school folks.

    Luckily for us, the love is mutual. David Beach, co-instructor of the “Design for Extreme Affordability” course, explains, “Proximity is an amazing organization… For us, the fact that they have experience on the ground, deep insight…that they are involved at the highest levels of crafting a path forward for Myanmar as a country…. They couldn’t be better partners.”

    In addition to making us blush, Beach does point to some of the factors that make our partnership with Stanford’s d.school a truly symbiotic exchange. Strong partnerships, grow, evolve, and endure, and we can’t wait to see what breakthrough, innovative products our work with the d.school will bring to rural Myanmar. 

    A Stanford team member out in the field