Our phones may have the answer to managing mental health

Sustainability problem– Mental health and well-being of citizens

We have apps that monitor our basic physical well-being like activity, sleep cycle, heart health etc. A step further would involve these apps communicating with our doctors to keep them informed on our general health and take proactive measures in case we are showing signs of physical sickness.

How does one monitor and manage mental health? Something that has long been associated with social stigma, mental health is often gauged through observation, human interaction and surveys. Is there a way to proactively detect mental health issues without having to face the stigma associated with talking about it?

Sustainability technology– Mobile phone sensors and apps to track signs of depression and failing mental health

The answer lies in our phones. A new app developed by researchers at Dartmouth College suggests that a phone’s sensors can also be used to peek inside a person’s mind and gauge mental health.When 48 students let the app collect information from their phones for an entire 10-week term, patterns in the data matched up with changes in stress, depression, and loneliness that showed up when they took the kind of surveys doctors use to assess their patients’ mood and mental health. Trends in the phone data also correlated with students’ grades.The results suggest that smartphone apps could offer people and doctors new ways to manage mental well-being. The app collects data including a phone’s motion and location and the timing of calls and texts, and occasionally activates the microphone on a device to run software that can tell if a conversation is taking place nearby. Algorithms process that information into logs of a person’s physical activity, communication patterns, sleeping patterns, visits to different places, and an estimate of how often they were involved in face-to-face conversation. Many changes in those patterns were found to correlate significantly with changes in measures of depression, loneliness, and stress. For example, decline in exposure to face-to-face conversations was indicative of depression.

A system where doctors can monitor their patient’s mental health through an app that connects to the phone app’s API in order to look at key behavioural signals will allow for proactive identification of mental health issues without the patient needing to face the stigma or the self-doubt, which is often associated with mental health issues.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

Governments: since this involves using very personal data, a strict policy and protocol needs to be established on who owns the data, how it is meant to be used and the measures needed to keep things confidential

Psychiatrists and mental health NGO community: People involved in dealing with mental health issues need to play an active role in educating the public about the pros of such a data-enabled system as well as work with governments to determine appropriate laws

App developers: to establish strict data encryption or protection mechanisms, as well as develop a system that permits hospitals to easily access information through APIs.




Post on talking street lamps:

This is a great use of what I imagine is something similar to motion sensor technology! Based on the description, it appears as though this would be easy to deploy in situations where there is less population density and there are higher chances when the street is completely empty and there is a need to shut off the lights.


I wonder what the application of a such a technology would be in busier areas. Will the technology handle the stress of rapid switching? To visualize this, imagine a room with a such a motion sensor. If 1 person enters and leaves a room every 2 hours, then the technology will work well. But if there is someone constantly entering and leaving the room every 15 minutes, the sensor will have to switch on and off at that speed. At a larger scale, I feel this may stress the sensor and result in quicker failure.


Unless they use programmable logic that allows the sensor itself to be smart in the way it turns the light on and off as per the human traffic frequency and density on the street.

Have your cake and eat it too? Make electricity while cleaning your water supply

Sustainability problem– Clean water and reliable electricity

Sustainability technology– Anaerobic digestion to treat waste water streams

Typically, cities require that water meet a certain set of specifications regarding its pH level, BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), COD (Chemical oxygen demand) etc. In order to clean the water, large industrial users have to use large amounts of electricity as a part of the aerobic process of water treatment. This process is both costly as well as energy intensive.

Anaerobic respiration to treat water is an innovative way to hit two birds with one stone; the process breaks down the organic matter in water and converts it into biogas, which can further be used to generate electricity or channelled to a CHP plant. PurposeEnergy has developed a bio-reactor that is applicable to the food and beverage industry and permits the production of upto 220 kWH of energy daily, in addition to treating waste water.

Such a technology can transcend beyond the food and beverage industry and find widespread application in developing cities in emerging economies. The bio-reactor can in theory eliminate the need for complex and expensive filtration systems and at the same time, facilitate both clean cooking fuels as well as biogas micro-grid development, thereby reducing dependency on fossil fuels and grid powered energy.



Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

  • Developers such as PurposeEnergy to innovate around their existing technology to be able to cater to waste water beyond the kind generated by food/beverage industries (i.e. treat other kinds of contaminants and organic matter)
  • City governments to create a program or partnership with developers and help channel funds necessary for research and development (enter into a long term contract to deploy the products across the city)
  • Planners and designers to innovate around how these reactors can be set up across neighbourhoods and municipalities





Comment on other post: Dynamic Buildings for a Sustainable Future

This is certainly one of the more futuristic technologies i’ve seen, thanks for sharing! It would be great to learn more about the engineering behind this, because (and I have very limited civil engineering knowledge), the first thing that comes to mind is wind/earthquake loads and factor of safety in building design. How high can this go? We seem to be in an age where everything is being built vertically, and we need to be smart about the way we use land.


A second thought that comes to mind is how customizable the design is. I’m imagining a city full of structures like this: would it end up looking monotonous if every building resembled such a dynamic structure in its general shape, size, colour and design? A big part of having a healthy life is to be able to experience the variety in the natural and built environment. I am curious to know how this design can evolve to portray different shapes and sizes so as to avoid cities looking like templates.

By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)

It is a fascinating technology though.

Heat to keep things cold and fresh? Solar powered micro-chillers for produce

Sustainability problem– Food wastage and losses due to high temperatures

Sustainability technology– Solar powered portable cost storage that can preserve produce and food for longer

An FAO study indicates that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain.

Local farmers residing in hot climates face a daunting problem: their produce is susceptible to spoilage due to high temperatures which puts them at a disadvantage in markets. For cities in hot climatic regions (Equatorial countries, South East Asia etc.), the transition to sustainable and smart ways of operation require a special focus on mitigating the losses due to food and produce wastage. With growing public expectations over sustainable and local sourcing, farmers in these parts of the world need a reliable way to get their produce to market without spoilage.

Why not use the heat to their advantage? Companies such as Ecozen in India have developed micro-cold storages that run completely on solar power, and allow farmers to preserve their produce. The technology is coupled with sensors that feed data to an app on the farmer’s smartphone, allowing him/her to continuously monitor the health of produce. They are also able to compare average prices of produce in the market and ensure they get the best price possible.

Another unique aspect of this technology is the ability to mount it on trucks, which are often used to transport produce from rural farms to city centers.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

  • Farmers- to invest in the micro-cold storage and use it to store their produce
  • Banks and MFIs- create innovative financial products that allow poor farmers to finance this investment
  • Ecozen- create innovative asset sharing platforms, where farmers who may not want to buy the technology can rent it out as they need (so that we don’t produce more of them and instead, transition to a sharing model for the technology).




Comment on “Energy from evaporating water could rival wind or solar”.

Assuming this technology takes off in the near or mid-term future, two key points will need to be kept in mind:

  1. How will the electrical energy be transmitted? Will it feed into the grid or will this technology work better in Distributed Energy Generation models?
  2. Can battery storage be used in tandem to solve the above problem?


It would appear that such a technology will be a great starting point for distributed generation, on farms and other places where water is heavily used/evaporation rates are high. It may not be feasible to feed this type of energy directly into the grid. Thoughts?


By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)

From landfills to community based “biogas generators”

Sustainability problem

Waste to landfill, improper waste management and climate change

According to the EPA Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate (as of 2013). On average, 1.51 pounds of the 4.4 pounds per person per day of our individual waste was recycled and composted.

Another study estimates that on average America tosses five pounds of trash per person per day into its landfills, based on actual landfill data as opposed to government estimates. Regardless of the facts and figures, it is safe to assume that the amount of waste going to landfills and resulting methane production (a gas that has 23 times the carbon intensity of carbon dioxide) is an issue of paramount importance.

Sustainability technology

Home or community based biogas generators for cooking and heating

Biogas digesters take household and yard waste and convert it to a useful, methane rich substitute that can be channelled to homes for various applications. Think of this as capturing the methane at landfills and converting it to useful energy. However, why let the waste reach the landfills when it can be converted to energy right at the source?

A well-managed methane digester can produce approximately its own volume of biogas each day. Anywhere from 10 to 60 percent of the solids will convert into biogas during digestion, so expect between 3 and 18 cubic feet of available biogas energy for each pound of dry material.

While the technology is not new, the accompanying governance and management is where innovative ideas can take shape. By creating neighbourhood based “gas plants”, households can all channel their waste to a local plant which generates gas and pipes it back to them for cooking and heating. This cannot completely replace industrial standard supply of natural gas but can certainly reduce the dependence on it, which in turn can have downstream effects of overall reduced demand.

It will also minimize the amount of waste going to landfills and in the long run the need for landfills. The leftover material is a useful fertilizer which can be utilized to nurture local parks or farms.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

  • Municipal authorities and organizations- for construction and maintenance
  • Citizens- responsible for segregating waste with care
  • Governments- to do a cost benefit analysis of this project at a neighbourhood and municipality level and subsequently to create subsidy programs to allow this program to pick up speed





Post on Smog Free Tower

Very unique technology! This is needed in cities like Delhi and Shanghai, though the primarily roadblock i foresee is the availability of space. Several of the most polluted cities are also very densely packed and availability of land is always an issue. Is there a range over which this technology operates?

Perhaps the solution lies in situating them on the outskirts (this depends on the range over which this technology can “vacuum and clean”), or rather to innovate to the point where this acts as a final stage scrubbing technology and cleans right at the source?

By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)

Image source- http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/triple_aqa/humans_and_environment/biofuels/revision/4/


AI for surveillance? Is there a cost-effective and ethical solution to using big data for managing social misconduct?

Sustainability problem– Rising rates of social misconduct, ranging from littering and improper waste management to crime and violence against women.

While these may not appear to be a “sustainability” problem, we must acknowledge that sustainability refers to the environmental, social and governance aspects of society. Improper social conduct can result in ripple effects that can compound and impact the sustainability performance of a city.

Sustainability technology– Artificial intelligence to convert CCTVs from “solving” to “preventing” social misconduct

Chicago has recently piloted a program where the police use artificial intelligence algorithms to rate every person’s arrest with a numerical threat score. This algorithm shapes policing strategy, the use of force, and threatens to alter suspicion on the streets. In practical effect, the personalized threat score automatically displays on police computer dashboards so an officer can know the relative risk of the suspect being stopped. The predictive score also shapes who gets targeted for proactive police intervention.

This use of big data and machine learning can be viewed as both a terrific advancement and a terrifying example of social control (A popular Japanese anime called Psycho Pass plays with this concept and depicts how society is ultimately controlled by a massive AI system that dictates how people should behave, what is a crime and how the police should handle the situation). However, the threat can be tackled in the following ways-

  • Ensuring transparency- the variables that go into computing the threat score and the logic behind predictions should be known to the public
  • Law makers must ensure that final decisions being made are at the police officer’s discretion- the final authority on a decision should always be a human
  • Ensure that there is a clear distinction between the algorithmic output and human decisions and bias

However, the purpose of this post is to introduce another interesting way of using AI to monitor social conduct that is less intrusive. An example of this can be seen in the 24/7 surveillance model piloted by Kolkatta in India in 2012 (and subsequently replicated in a few cities globally). The system relies on existing infrastructure (CCTV cameras installed across cities) and uses video analytics and artificial intelligence algorithms to identify anomalies in behaviour.

Picture a normal every day scene on a busy pavement. Office-goers on their way to work, pedestrians grabbing a bite at a food truck. The moment something out of the ordinary happens – someone lunges at another person, a pedestrian collapses, a crowd suddenly gathers or a bag is left unattended too long – intelligent algorithms will instantly identify any change in the normal picture and alert a computer placed in the nearest police kiosk, which will set off an alarm at the local police station through satellite connectivity. In just a few seconds of a suspicious activity or object being detected, officers will be watching it live on their screens and initiate appropriate action.

The technology can be used to ensure corrective action and adherence to rules regarding traffic, waste management and littering as well as more serious crimes. However, the exact placement of CCTV cameras is a sensitive issues- crowded streets and public areas are a given while private buildings and residences will always be out of bounds to ensure respect of privacy.


Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

  • Governments- to ensure that proper and detailed guidance on the ethics of using such systems are in place along with ensuring protection of human rights
  • Enforcement agencies- including the crime and traffic department of police, Department of Sanitation etc.
  • Citizens- to voice their opinions, understand the terms and conditions and ensure they are contributing to the formulation of guiding policies




Post on Solar Bike Paths-

This is a fantastic thought and a perfect use of existing space. I myself have thought of alternatives to such innovations- how about mounting small solar modules on the top of buses and trucks that spend hours on end out on the road in the sun?

The issue i see is with grid management- will this solution exacerbate the duck curve problem in times of over generation? I think that for this to reach scale, we need to constantly think of storage at scale as well.

-By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)


Fitbit for Cows! Agtech that can save society billions

Sustainability problem- High costs to society due to disease outbreak on livestock farms

The risk of disease outbreak in meat and dairy industry can have severe downstream impacts that are broadly classified as-

Direct costs

  • Animal and human worker deaths due to illness
  • Reduced fertility and herd changes

Indirect costs

  • Mitigation costs- including cost of drugs, vaccines and surveillance
  • Human health impacts
  • Lost revenue to do lower productivity

Though the efficacy of disease management in the livestock industry has progressively improved, problems persist with the emergence of newer diseases, exacerbated by a variety of factors including climate change, migration and the overall growth of scale of the livestock industry. For example the cost of Salmonella in the EU and member states was estimated at €132,612,837 in 2008. In the United States, the Center for Disease Control estimated that the total cost to society due to Salmonella outbreaks in 2011 was over $2 Billion (The Cost of Animal Disease- Oxford Analytica).

Sustainability technology- SmartMoo, a wearable for Cows

In a world where data analytics, real-time sensing and IoT are finding increasing application in sustainability and smart cities, the livestock industry can certainly benefit from a similar intervention. The proposed technology is essentially a “Fitbit for Cows”, pioneered by an Indian Agtech firm called StellApps.

The product, called SmartMoo, is a router/IoT inspector that collects data from sensors placed all along the supply chain, right from animal wearables to the milking and cooling systems. The data is processed and analysed and sent to various stakeholders involved, including farmers. Its low hardware costs ensure that it is an affordable solution for farmers in the developing world, who are typically at the bottom of the pyramid.

The wearable can be used to monitor the herd’s vitals, including temperature, activity and behaviour with the aim to alert the concerned stakeholder in real-time in case of abnormalities. By timely response to signals, farmers can ensure a healthy herd and disease-free industry, saving both themselves and society at large tremendous amounts of mitigation costs.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

The key stakeholders in deploying and scaling this technology are the following-

  • Governments- to create incentive schemes for farmers and livestock farm owners to invest in and adopt these technologies as well as create a network of emergency response veterinarians
  • Medical community- Veterinarians to link to and monitor data from these sensors at an aggregate level to inform the authorities on “hotspots” for disease activity as well as take necessary precautions
  • Farmers and livestock owners- to be trained on installing, using and interpreting information from sensors. It would also be helpful for the medical community to disseminate “immediate care” knowledge to the livestock owners, so that signals caught by the network of sensors can be addressed immediately while professional help is organized and dispatched







By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)

Image source- http://assets.fwi.co.uk/Cows-at-Tregevis-Farm