SolarSPELL Team works with SMART Sistas Vanuatu to develop Robot for FIRST Global Competition

The ASU SolarSPELL team had the opportunity to work with the SMART Sistas Vanuatu team on Sunday May 14. These amazing young women will be the first ever team from Vanuatu representing the country at the upcoming FIRST Global robotics competition in Washington DC in July 2017.

For this competition, the SMART Sistas will need to develop a robot from the same parts that are provided to every team in this global competition—what they do with these parts, and what they can make the robot do—is what will distinguish them from the other teams at the competition.

The SolarSPELL team arrived early and discovered that Lana and Lilia were already hard at work.

Shortly after this, team leaders/teachers/mentors Rodney and Grace from the US Peace Corps arrived and all of the team members introduced themselves.

Our team described how the SolarSPELL digital library works, and the SMART Sistas were quite taken with it.

Then, it was time for the hard work of the remainder of the afternoon. Good thing there was a robotics major among the ASU students! Even so, all of the ASU students were engineering majors, allowing them to contribute their valuable skills to the effort.

The short term goal for the day was to make sure the robot could be driven up a ramp. The longer term work included a great deal of brainstorming ideas about how to make this robot do what it’s supposed to do. The ASU students had plenty of ideas, but also indicated that they were just blown away by Lana’s and Lilia’s ideas.

A few days later, the SolarSPELL team was fortunate enough to see the SMART Sistas give a presentation at the ICT Days conference in Port Vila (May 17). Not only were the girls all poised, well-spoken and confident, their robot was a star, too! They drove it out in front of them on-stage at the beginning, and at the end, they drove it up the ramp effortlessly.

We are happy that we had the chance to get to know these amazing young women, proud that we had the chance to work with them, and we wish them all the best at the FIRST Global competition in Washington DC next month! You are AWESOME!!!


Posted in Arizona State University, Peace Corps, Solar Digital Library, SolarSPELL, Vanuatu, Women and Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

SolarSPELL Site Visit to Nguna Island, Vanuatu

The ASU SolarSPELL team’s third site visit was to Nancy’s village of in Nguna on Monday, May 15, 2017. With a village population of about 130 and no electricity, running water, or Internet connectivity, this village faces significant challenges. To give one example, there is no school beyond a kindergarten. All schoolchildren must travel to other villages to continue their schooling. Nancy welcomed us to her home and told us more about the village when we arrived.

Some of the local schoolchildren began asking Nancy to help them with various homework or school-related activities, and she heard about a SolarSPELL digital library that had been left with a headmaster in a neighboring village, on the same island but quite a distance away, by a Peace Corps volunteer who had completed their term of service there. She asked the headmaster for the SolarSPELL and had been using it for the past 6 months. We brought her the new, updated version.

Nancy had invited a group of students she regularly interacts with, to come and be among the first to “surf” the new SolarSPELL library.

At first, these kids were incredibly shy–this picture captures it well!

But after Miles explained how the SolarSPELL worked, and pointed out some of the new content, they were off and running!  They became far less shy, and we were so happy to see how second-nature it was for them to connect to the library and start surfing, whether on a tablet or smartphone.

They began surfing to their hearts’ content, (mainly) watching videos that interested them.

They are currently on a two-week break from classes, so this was a welcome diversion. A village youth leader also joined in the action.

Later on, he proved to be a natural on flying Bruce’s drone, taking amazing aerial photos of the village.

Another highlight of the day was that our nursing student, Emily, was able to meet with some local women, to hear the health-related concerns facing them, their families, and/or the village more generally. What a fantastic opportunity to learn what the true challenges are for remote villages that lack so many resources we take for granted.

The team would like to thank our gracious Peace Corps volunteer hosts in all three locations. What an amazing experience to be welcomed everywhere we went, benefiting from the wonderful relationships that the PCVs have established and cultivated with their home villages. We feel so fortunate to have been welcomed in so warmly, in each and every case.


Posted in Arizona State University, Pacific Islands, Peace Corps, Solar Digital Library, SolarSPELL, Vanuatu, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SolarSPELL Team site visit to Lelepa Island, Vanuatu

On Saturday, May 13, the ASU SolarSPELL team was thrilled at having the opportunity to join Peace Corps volunteers Katie and Jack as they traveled back to their “home” island of Lelepa. There was a crowd of children at the pier, all of whom were elated to see Katie, whom they knew as their teacher.

We also met a number of the village residents as we trekked through the main street.

All of them were elated to see Katie and Jack returned to Lelepa.

There were beautiful seascapes at every turn, as we made our way to an amazing cave.


We were glad we hadn’t needed to travel in one of the local canoes, pictured above, but it was neat to see quite a few of them, nonetheless.

There were beautiful vistas around every turn, as we made our way to Lelepa’s famous cave.

One of the locals, Krystal, gave us a tour of the spectacular cave that just defied description, so I will leave it to the pictures. We also learned quite a bit about the legend of Chief Roi Mata, whose remains were found on the hat shaped island pictured below. (It’s called Hat Island.)

There were some ancient cave drawings from the 1800s depicting local topics of importance in that time (which were very difficult to capture on camera). Can you see the silhouette of a wild pig in the photo below?

Afterwards, we walked back out to where the boat was moored and to our surprise on this off-grid, unconnected island, there was a teenage girl, sitting on the beach with her tablet, watching music videos!

Our next stop was at Katie and Jack’s home, adjacent to the school where Katie teaches. We trained them on how to use the SolarSPELL library, giving them the lightning-speed overview of the device and pointing out some highlights of the content.

Lelepa island seems to be an ideal place for the SolarSPELL as Katie estimated that over half of the island’s residents own tablets, not even to mention how many smartphones would be found there as well, so finding devices in Lelepa would not present the same challenge as in Epau. The team was surprised at the difference in access to technology that a small difference in local income levels makes. We inquired about this and were told that since Lelepa has no water source of its own, (subsistence) farming is not an option, so people commute to Port Vila and work for wages. Clearly, they were earning more than the subsistence farmers. How interesting that geographic limitations could lead to higher incomes.

Katie and Jack were tremendously excited at the new possibilities that using the SolarSPELL presented for the school. Katie already shared numerous ideas she was having, not only for using the SolarSPELL in her classes, but for holding a workshop to introduce it more widely, to teachers and parents as well.

Finally, the team got back in the boat and headed around to the far side of the island for some absolutely amazing snorkeling.

And a great fish dinner afterward.

Posted in Arizona State University, Pacific Islands, Peace Corps, Solar Digital Library, SolarSPELL, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment