Miss Tech 2017, an event co-organised by the Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), US Embassy, Nepal Telecommunications Authority and Nepal Engineer’s Association saw enthusiastic participation from 17 teams of female engineers who worked to devise products that could transform the lives of women in the country.
The annual event was launched last year with the intention of encouraging more women to participate in technological innovation. The first edition however remained limited to the Kathmandu Valley and saw 14 teams design products around the theme of ‘Water Management’. This year witnessed a jump in participation after organisers reached out to women across the country, and the teams were tasked with methods to help ‘Mountain Women’ bring about ‘Transformational Changes through Technology’. The teams had two weeks to prepare hardware and software solutions that fell under seven challenge categories — occupation, migration, violence, social status, information, agriculture and tourism. RAN organised hackathons on September 12 and 14 to provide mentorship to the participants and allow them a dedicated platform where they could finish coding before showcasing their designs on September 16.
All the teams presented their project models and a working prototype before a panel of judges on September 16, post which three winning teams were selected on the basis of their presentation, technical innovation and the product’s ability to address challenges faced by women in mountainous regions. The winning team, Mountain Girls, impressed the judges with a wearable pregnancy belt featuring heartbeat and temperature sensors that could monitor and record the heartbeats of the unborn child as well as the temperature of the mother. The recorded data was then stored in the cloud and made accessible to both doctor and patient, who would also be alerted in case of the device noted any abnormalities. Sandhya Guragain, one of the three team members said, “We have built a prototype through our initial research. However, we are planning to consult doctors and improve our prototype. We came up with this project to mitigate the high mortality rate in mountain regions where doctors and health facilities are not easily available.”
Meanwhile, Project Awaj, which secured second place, addressed the prevalent issue of domestic violence by employing a Raspberry Pi based application that could secretly record the complaints of victimised women and transmit them via an online server to the web portals of concerned authorities for investigation and redressal. Meanwhile, second runner-up Nova Tech focused on agriculture and developed an ‘Automatic Green House Farming System’ providing automatic temperature control inside the greenhouse and an automatic irrigation facility that works by detecting soil moisture. According to the team members, mountainous regions suffer from adverse climate conditions so their project was designed to create favourable conditions for cultivation.
Over the years Nepal has made immense progress in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and technopreneurship but it is the men who have always taken the lead. To explain the lack of women in technical fields, Ambika Sharma, a member of RAN and a Miss Tech co-ordinator said, “First of all, women are academically discouraged to pursue careers in engineering or any other technological stream. Secondly, there is a general misconception that the technological sector is only for men. That’s why we find very little involvement of women in technopreneurship and other technological sectors.” She added, “Through programmes like Miss Tech, we are trying to encourage women to engage with technological fields.”
Besides organising the annual Miss Tech, RAN also trains women in app development, game development, blogging, drone operation, and more. Bikash Gurung, President of RAN said, “This year, we will continue working on the projects submitted by the Miss Tech teams. We will consult with other stakeholders and authorities to make sure that the developed prototypes and projects are upgraded with the help of investment. Winners will also get the opportunity to work with ICIMOD and other organisations and visit mountain areas to better understand the scope of their project.” He added that RAN is committed to increasing the involvement of women in technological fields by organising more such events in the near future.
A version of this article appears in print on September 25, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.