Team Tools for the Homeless: IDEATE and MSR

This week our team started the ideate process and presented our progress during the mid semester review (MSR). We described our story of how we got from wanting to help the homeless to our concrete how can we statement:

How can we ensure homeless individuals in Houston’s tent camps have reliable access to the water needed to maintain good hygiene?

We also brainstormed that our solution would achieve the following design goals:

  • Something that you don’t have to carry or would be easy to carry/lightweight
  • Sustainable – should be able to use more than once
  • Cost-effective enough to reproduce
  • Accessible/easy to distribute
  • Sanitary / in alignment with good hygiene

Our initial run through of the ideation process yielded about 75 ideas. We were able to cluster them in the following 5 themes:

  1. Delivery Service

The delivery system would involve a large carrier such as a van that would come every day with water bottles. We could test this solution by distributing water bottles every other day for a week in a van and see how many people we are able to contact.

  1. Refilling Stations

We noticed on our trips that the homeless have many disposable items. After a comb/ razor is used, it is usually thrown somewhere near the encampment on the ground. We thought that providing a refilling station in which one pressed a button for water would encourage the homeless to use their old plastic water bottles to stock up on water. Refilling stations could also use water captured from rains (which occurs heavily and frequently in Houston) through a water collection system as a source of water. We could test this solution by seeing how many people come to refill their water at a refilling station placed in the encampment.

  1. Waterless Hygiene

We thought about how much water is required for personal hygiene and whether we could eliminate that need entirely. For example, soaps that do not require water to rub on the skin to work or antibacterial sanitizers, waterless cloths, and disposable toothbrushes were ideated. Another tangentially similar set of ideas is water purification such as powder that could sterilize the water. We could test this solution by comparing the antibacterial power of the waterless hygiene product with regular soap.

  1. Water Fountain Map

During our immerse phase, we asked locals if there were water fountains in the area provided by the city. One of them said that there was one a block away and the rest said nothing. A map that had the locations of all the water fountains downtown would inform individuals that there are water fountains in the area and would provide easy directions to get to them. We could test this solution by seeing how frequently and how long it took for the homeless to read the map and go to the water fountain.

  1. Carrying Methods

Lastly, we could change the type of vessel used to carry the water. One of the biggest disadvantages of stocking up on a lot of water is how bulky and hard it is to carry. Ideas included designing a trolley to hold water bottles, or plastic pouches for water that can more easily fit in a backpack. We could test this solution by providing the water bottles and see if the homeless would use that rather than the existing water bottles they already have.

Our ideating process has just begun, we are still trying to generate as many as possible before we attempt to narrow on a prototype.

We received a tons of feedback from the MSR and were able to hone in reoccuring themes that we should answer as we continue to ideate.

  • We need to focus on whether we wanted to provide water for hydration or providing water for hygiene.
  • A quantitative description of what consists of good hygiene would make it easier to determine how a solution could meet that need
  • We should include in our ideas ways in which the homeless would be incentivized to use the solution
  • We should research more into the history of public water fountains and long term solutions such as refilling stations to see how it can be maintained (Do we need a person to look after the solution?, How funds for that was going to happen?, Can it be self run?)
  • H2Omeless is a cool team name

Stay tuned for more updates in the Engineering Design Process!!

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