By Khalida Sarwari
The drought may be all but over in California, but don’t count on a trio of Harker School students becoming complacent.
Rather than falling back into old habits, the sixth-graders are committed to saving water more than ever not only by thinking up new ways to save water at home, but also by devising a system that integrates rain collection and irrigation systems.
That effort was part of a project the boys worked on for the First Lego League Silicon Valley championships in January. Kabir Ramzan, 11, Dustin Miao, 12, and Jordan Labio, 12, all of Saratoga, sought to tackle two major problems they identified: high residential water usage, half of which they found is for outdoor irrigation, and excessive urban runoff, which causes pollution, kills wildlife and could lead to flooding.
To solve both problems, the boys came up with an idea of collecting rain that falls on roofs and integrating it with irrigation systems. This, they learned, could reduce outdoor water usage by 30 percent and urban runoff by as much as 20 percent. Now they just had to find a way to execute their idea.
The solution they landed on was to connect a home’s irrigation system to the mainline and one or more rain barrels, then monitor the water level in the barrel with a float switch and create a controller that chooses the appropriate water source when irrigation is needed based on a float switch. And so they created a prototype that does just that.
“There are currently rain barrels,” said Jordan, “but they’re really hard to use and not many people have them. We only know one or two people that have them. Ninety percent of people rely on automatic irrigation. They don’t have time to water plants. What we’re trying to do is give the benefits of rain barrels to everybody, not just people who don’t have jobs.”
The group’s project was selected as one of the 50 most innovative projects out of 500.
Their success on the project allows them to advance to a final tournament in Arkansas in May where they will compete against 74 other teams from around the country.
“We were very surprised,” said Kabir. “It was our first year doing this kind of thing. There are teams out there that have like six people on them so they had more manpower. We thought we’d just go there and it’d be practice for next year.”
Held annually, the First Lego League competition challenges teams of children ages 9 to 14 to research and develop solutions to real-world problems, such as food safety or the need for recycling. As part of the project, teams must build and program a robot, then compete on a playing field.
Outside of the First Lego League events, the boys have presented their research to various groups in the South Bay, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District and Saratoga City Council. They have also shown their work to Google, Home Depot and Orchard Supply Hardware. It’s little wonder that they already have a sales pitch.
“It’s innovative, it’s new, there’s nothing out there like this,” said Kabir. “It’s very convenient for 95 percent of people who can’t irrigate manually with a water can or hose.”
Through this effort, the boys learned much about the importance of saving water. Jordan said he no longer leaves the faucet running when he brushes his teeth, while Kabir and Dustin said they now take shorter showers. They have been advising their family members to take similar measures. A little bit of awareness can go a long way in helping people save money and help the environment, too, they said. Saving water is also beneficial to sustaining life, said Dustin.
“Most of the things we do every day requires water,” he said. “We need water to survive.”
To learn more about the students’ project and follow their progress, visit their website sites.google.com/site/alphawolvesfll.