In honor of World Toilet Day, Kohler launched its “Design a Toilet” Hackathon.
Within 24 hours, eight student teams designed an environmentally sustainable toilet for a specific user group – ranging from migrant workers to taxi drivers. Mentors in design and engineering industries were assigned to each team, and helped them cater their presentations to real-world clients and users.
In his greeting to students and mentors, Rich Brubaker, founder of Collective Responsibility, emphasized this user-centric mission.
“Identify the problem you want to solve,” Brubaker said. “No matter who your target community is, make sure your solution really helps those users.”
Cedric Ong, Managing Director of Kohler’s Kitchen Business for the Asia Pacific, had a similar message. He opened the 24-hour event with Kohler’s inspiration for the Hackathon, and emphasized rethinking sanitation for all users. “We have this program because our company isn’t just for people with money,” he said. “We host this for people who live in areas with poor and limited resources, so they can have equal access to sanitation.”
Andrew Zhou, Vice President of Engineering at Shanghai Kohler Electronics Co., followed with an outline of Kohler’s history. He explained what drives the company to innovate and how it maintains its status as an industry leader.
“Kohler chooses to lead,” Zhou stressed. “There are so many examples of companies and teams that fall behind, because they stop innovating. You always have to innovate; otherwise, you will be replaced by someone who can do a better job satisfying users.”
Professor Li Zifu from the University of Science and Technology of Beijing showed students how much sanitation has changed over the past six decades, especially in China, and displayed models from previous competitions.
“It’s pretty clear,” Li said, pointing to past students’ diagrams. “There are so many different improvements you can introduce through your designs.”
Day two also featured a keynote speech from Mandy Li, Miss Money Penny of WeCare WC. She empowered students – who at this point were bleary-eyed – to take a close look at their final designs, and always keep their users in mind. WeCare WC works with companies like Kohler to design public restrooms, and in its mission statement, stresses user-friendliness, quality control, and hygiene.
After the keynote, students rushed to finish their final designs, and reconvened at 4 pm to give final presentations. After nearly 24 hours of work, each student team explained their design to a panel of judges and received feedback on their models. Judges included Kohler representatives, university professors, and other leaders in the industry.
East China University of Science and Technology and the University of Science and Technology of China tied for second best overall design, while NYU Shanghai took first place. Each targeted a different user group, including commuters, taxi drivers, the elderly, event planners, and construction workers, and incorporated both field research and advanced models in their presentations.
Members of each winning team are eligible for potential internships with Kohler, as well as future collaboration to implement their designs.
Other university teams involved in the Hackathon include:
- Tongji University
- Shanghai Jiaotong University
- Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
- Shanghai Institute of Visual Art
When asked about his favorite part of the Hackathon, Di Zhu, a student from the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, mentioned the time crunch.
“I like that we had so little time,” he said. “Normally, when we do projects, we spend lots of time planning and joking around, then finally get to work. But now we actually have a deadline, so everything we talk about is really focused and intense.”
His teammate, Yuxuan Zhao, showed pictures of his friends in various sleeping positions – some collapsed on the table, others face-first on the carpet. “We’re like zombies,” he said, and laughed.
For more information about creating hackathons with Collective Responsibility or our upcoming hackathon with Jaguar Land Rover, please contact Chuli Duan at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our Hackathon Landing Page for event recaps.
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This article was written by Alison Schonberg, Research Analyst for Collective Responsibility.