Student Competition Announced to Modernize Mekong River Technology

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Mekong River in Kratie, Cambodia (Photo - MRC)
Mekong River in Kratie, Cambodia (Photo: MRC)

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) recently launched a one-of-a-kind competition that challenges the region’s university students to design cost-effective, sustainable technology to monitor the Mekong’s water level, rainfall, soil moisture, and water quality.

The inaugural MRC River Monitoring Technology Competition is aimed at the most innovative Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese students – from one of 15 pre-selected universities across the Lower Mekong River Basin – to help protect the lifeblood for millions of fishing and farming families.

The MRC already maintains some 250 stations that monitor the hydrology, rainfall, water quality, ecological health, fisheries, and drought that affect Southeast Asia’s largest river. Yet most of this technology depends on foreign equipment that is often expensive and sometimes outdated.

While the MRC values its international partners, the MRC Secretariat CEO, Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, says homegrown solutions should deliver cheaper costs, develop local expertise, and offer other benefits – like nurturing the notion that Mekong citizens can solve Mekong problems, via technological innovation.

“We hope to inspire our Mekong youth to achieve their true potential – and provide creative responses that solve many of our vexing challenges,” says Kittikhoun. “This is the time for you, and us, to prove that we can develop technology that’s often made far away. You’ll be surprised at how much you can do: for yourself, for your university, for your society, and the one and only Mekong River.”

For this competition, the specific task is to develop telemetry-sensor technology that measures four separate categories: water level, rainfall, soil moisture, and water quality. Such sensors are typically installed in separate stations, or outdoors on riverbanks, usually in agricultural areas. Competitors should design a station appropriate for its own terrain, location, weather, and functions; operable via solar power; and capable of collecting and sending telemetry data from station to server, in real-time.

Winning entries will be judged according to their accuracy, durability, cost-effectiveness, and innovation.

This contest is open to any undergraduate or graduate student who attends one of 15 university partners, located within the four MRC Member Countries: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Students may compete as individuals or as a team – under the tutelage of an advisor from their school. Since each university may only propose one team in total, for the four categories, they must help identify the candidates or team with the strongest proposal. The applicant will then be invited to Bangkok to pitch their idea to the MRC Secretariat judges. The accepted project will each receive a grant of USD 800 to research and develop their prototype.

By the end of March, each competitor will present their prototype to a panel of international judges in Vientiane who will select four winning teams – one for each category. The winner will do more than receive an award of USD 5,000; they will also be invited to Vientiane to present their projects in April 2023, at both the 4th MRC Summit and MRC Pre-Summit International Conference – to the regional heads of state and other dignitaries in attendance.

The winners will then work with the MRC to implement their successful technology along the Mekong. To find out more about the competition and how to apply, click here.