30 June 2012

SVN 5K: Evolution of the Automated Design Tool

The Future of the Automated Design Tool

Some years ago, AguaClara program director Monroe Weber-Shirk was asked when the Automated Design Tool would be capable of producing completed designs. He responded by saying it should be "pretty perfect" by revision 10,000. As the future design team leader at the time, I decided the design team would make it well beyond halfway to "pretty perfect" before revision 5,000.

The Past

It was the summer of 2009. My design team partner and I were a week into our modest task of moving the flocculator ports from the top to the bottom of the tank. We fumbled through the code that appeared not unlike a foreign language to amateur eyes. After tinkering with dozens of daunting variables, we at last discovered the definition of the port location. With the combined intelligence of two Cornell engineering students and a half fortnight's worth of effort, we cleverly calculated the new z-coordinate of the port: zero. This marked my first contribution to the design tool, revision 1727.
20 liter per second plant produced by revision 1727 of the Automated Design Tool

The Present

This past weekend, the design team members held off on making revisions to the design tool so that I could have the honor of making revision 5,000, or SVN 5K as current design team leader Tori Klug calls it. I attempted to quickly shorten the entrance tank by repositioning some of the plumbing, only to be reminded that good design code is never written quickly. In the end, only some draft code made it in to SVN 5K. Despite my minor edit, it was hard not to admire the beautiful plant SVN 5K was generating.
20 liter per second plant produced by revision 5000 of the Automated Design Tool
Since my first revision, nine generations of design teams have collectively redesigned the entrance and sedimentation tanks and added chemical dosing components, a horizontal flocculator, our first-of-its-kind stacked rapid sand filter, walkways, platforms, and drain channels. Even with all of these new features, we barely increased the footprint of our plant from the 1727th revision. I am proud that from year to year we make leaps and bounds in our designs. I am proud that with our design tool we can design a better water treatment solution in eight minutes than experienced professionals can design in several months.

Our ability is truly a testament to our community-engaged, contextual design approach. Our competitors think that those in need of water need them. We realize that AguaClara and those in need of water need each other. Without the trust and collaboration of communities served, we cannot continue to identify new challenges to solve, and there innovation stops. After three years of witnessing our innovation model in action, I see no end to opportunities for improvement. I am humbled by the work ahead of us. I can no longer envision what a pretty perfect design tool will look like, but I do believe we have a pretty perfect approach to sustainability.

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