Mekong citizens solving Mekong problems, especially through technological innovation. That’s just one motive behind the Mekong River Commission (MRC) conceiving a one-of-a-kind competition: to inspire the region’s university students to design a slew of cutting-edge, cost-effective and sustainable tools that will monitor Southeast Asia’s largest river.

Launched on 5 October 2022, the MRC River Monitoring Technology Competition aims to motivate the best and brightest Cambodian, Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese students – for both practical and symbolic reasons. On the one hand, we want alternatives to the river monitoring technology we already maintain, which relies on foreign equipment that is often expensive, sometimes outdated.

On the other hand, we hope this will be a source of inspiration for Mekong youth. This specific challenge is to develop telemetry sensor technology that measures water level, rainfall, soil moisture, and water quality. Yet, students should also embrace the broader competition at play, on a global scale.

About the MRC

The MRC was established in 1995 by its four core Member Countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, as an intergovernmental agency. We serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region. The MRC has built on a foundation of more than six decades of knowledge and experience in the region, starting from 1957 as the Mekong Committee.

Moreover, under the current CEO, Anoulak Kittikhoun, our organization has added a third crucial priority: to promote homegrown, high-tech innovation. Therefore, this competition is an outgrowth of that vision.

Monitoring the Mekong

The flow of water down the Mekong is significant for how it affects both nature’s ecosystem and human livelihoods. Yet historic low flow has dramatically affected each in recent years, thanks to the combination of climate change – namely, the extremes of flooding and drought – coupled with the increasing use of hydropower, which regulates the retention and release of water downstream.

On the one hand, such irregularities can affect things like the movement of nourishing sediment and breeding of migratory fish. On the other, it can wreak havoc for the millions of fishing and farming families who rely on the river for food, income, even drinking water.

At the same time, the MRC has long relied on importing expensive, outdated technology from foreign partners that only monitored water-flow manually – and just once a month. When there were sudden changes in water-flow, there was no timely warning for the riverine communities downstream.

Though the MRC is now modernizing the system – by installing new monitoring stations and experimenting with technology that automatically measures water-flow every 15 minutes – we seek an effective, cost-efficient and sustainable technology. Ideally, a solution that’s homegrown.

Indeed, we’ve always known we had the capacity to manage and develop of the Mekong in a more sustainable way, using local experts and technologies. Technology research and development has mostly been invested in the private and commercial sector and very little in the development sector.

Now it’s time for us to rethink our sustainability, as the private sector does, to bolster our competitive advantage. Especially, this is to encourage you, the younger generation, to step up and share responsibility for safeguarding a river that’s the lifeblood for millions of fishing and farming families.

Competition Mechanism
  1. Universities decide in which sensor category their students will compete, alongside the MRC.
  2. Universities and students identify the members of their teams, including a professor in an advisory role. (Each university will have only team, developing one concept.)
  3. Teams develop their concepts and can request MRC technical support during the process.
  4. Teams submit an official registration form, which includes a basic explanation of their concept (form downloadable below).  
  5. Team representatives (a maximum of two students, plus their advisor) travel to Bangkok for a pitch session with the MRC Secretariat; they’ll be given feedback on how to improve their ideas.
  6. Teams receive a grant of USD 800 to further develop their projects and create a prototype.
  7. Teams must submit short videos to update the MRC on their project’s progress.
  8. In late March 2023, team representatives (two students, plus their advisor) travel to Vientiane and demonstrate their work to the international jury. The judges will choose and announce four winning teams (one team per category), awarding each winner USD 5,000.
  9. In early April 2023, each winner pitches their prototype at the MRC Pre-Summit International Conference and 4th MRC Summit, in front of regional heads of state, Mekong ministers and other dignitaries.
  10. MRC will then coordinate with each winning team, to implement their technology in real world.

Telemetry Sensor Categories

Requirements:

  • Sensors that monitor the Mekong’s parameters – such as flow, velocity, water level, rainfall, soil moisture and/or water quality – are normally installed within their own stations and placed outdoors on riverbanks, often in agricultural areas. Competing teams need to design a station that is appropriate for its terrain, location, weather, and functions.
  • The sensors should be able to collect and send telemetry data, from station to server, in real-time.
  • The sensors must be operable with solar power.
  • The water quality sensors should be able to monitor turbidity, pH and oxygen.
  • We encourage ideas of the Internet of Thing (IoT).
Judging Criteria

Each work will be judged using the following criteria, each of which has equal weight.

 

  1. Accuracy (25%):   The sensor shows evidence of consistent test results.
  2. Durability (25%): The sensors are designed in such a way that they can withstand harsh weather conditions.
  3. Cost Effectiveness (25%): The sensor can be manufactured locally at an affordable cost.
  4. Innovation (25%): The sensor is produced from a new and innovative concept, or further enhances existing sensor technologies.
Rules (once the project has been selected for competition)
  • Competitors need to build and ensure their equipment works. A real-world test must be conducted, and the results documented.
  • Off-the-shelf or ready-made commercial technology cannot be purchased and modified; only electronics parts are allowed for assembly and construction. Teams will need to identify the cost and source of all individual parts, as well as submit a total production costing.
  • Teams will need to submit a design document with the schematic design of the sensors.
  • Teams will be required to update the MRC on the progress of their prototype development with short videos.
Eligibility
  • Undergraduate and graduate students from selected universities are welcome to participate as individuals or in teams.
  • Students may be from an engineering programme or any related field.
  • Children of MRC employees are not eligible to participate.
Participating Universities

Cambodia

  • Royal University of Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh)
  • Institute of Technology Cambodia (Phnom Penh)
  • National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia (Phnom Penh)

 

Thailand

  • King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (Bangkok)
  • Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok)
  • Khon Kaen University (Khon Kaen)
  • Kasetsart University (Bangkok)

 

Lao PDR

  • National University of Laos (Vientiane capital)
  • Soutsaka Institute of Technology (Vientiane capital)
  • Champasak National University (Champasak province)

 

Viet Nam

  • Hanoi Water Resources University
  • University of Science – Vietnam National University Hanoi (Hanoi)
  • Can Tho University (Can Tho province)
  • University of Science – Vietnam National University (Ho Chi Minh City
Time line
Date Activity
05 October 2022 Competition is officially launched 
10-31 October 2022 Roadshow to meet university professors, administrators and students; Registration will take place concurrently
03 November 2022 Team representatives travel to Bangkok to present their concepts to MRCS and receive feedback
08-17 November 2022 R&D funds are transferred to universities (USD 800)
09 January 2023 First video progress report is submitted
20 February 2023 Second video progress report is submitted
06 March 2023 Final prototype video is submitted
29-30 March 2023 Team representatives travel to Vientiane to present prototypes to main jury and winners are chosen
02 April 2023 Four winning teams present or display prototypes at the MRC Pre-Summit International Conference
05 April 2023 Four winning teams present prototypes at the 4th MRC Summit
Application and Submission

Application is downloadable from here: https://forms.gle/Ah8D9Gsz4x7ByJJh7

Interested teams from the selected universities need to submit the application to the MRC Secretariat no later than 31 October 2022. This can be done during an information session at the selected universities or by sending an email to: sopheak@mrcmekong.org.

More information

Please write to Mr Sopheak Meas, the MRC Secretariat’s Stakeholder Engagement Specialist, in case of questions, using the email above. 

Or download the brochure here.