The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has announced a new competition which will challenge the students of the region’s universities to design cost-effective, sustainable technology to monitor the Mekong River.

“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,” said MRC, in an October 6 press release.

The MRC maintains 250 stations that monitor conditions that affect Southeast Asia’s largest river, yet most of this technology is foreign equipment, which is often expensive and sometimes outdated.

While the MRC values its international partners, the organisation’s secretariat CEO, Anoulak Kittikhoun, says homegrown solutions will 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 the Mekong youth to achieve their true potential – and provide creative responses to solve many of our vexing challenges,” says Kittikhoun. “This is the time for you, and for us, to prove that we ourselves 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 for the one and only Mekong River.”

The specific task is to develop telemetry-sensor technology that measures one of 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.

MRC confirmed that 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 enter one team, they should identify the candidates or team with the strongest potential in each category.

The applicants will be invited to Bangkok to pitch their idea to the MRC judges. Each of the designs which are successfully pitched will receive $800 to design and build a working prototype.

By the end of March next year, 2023, 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 winners will be invited to Vientiane to present their designs – at the 4th MRC Summit and MRC Pre-Summit International Conference – to the regional heads of state and other dignitaries in attendance. They will also collect a cash prize of $5,000.

“The winners will then work with the MRC to implement their successful technology along the Mekong,” the MRC added.