May 24, 2019
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Science & Technology

Bolivian family to pitch Lake Titicaca clean-up plan in Silicon Valley

La Paz, Mar 11 (epa-efe).- A Bolivian family is preparing to present a project to experts in California's Silicon Valley that would use artificial intelligence (AI) to remove lesser duckweed from Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America.

The project to clean up Lake Titicaca, perched 4,000m (13,115ft) above sea level, is one of the finalists in an international contest.

What began as a dream for the Vega-Hidalgo family is now a "goal fulfilled" thanks to the year they spent studying AI through the Curiosity Machine, a program of US non-profit organization Iridescent that is coordinated in the Andean nation by Bolivia Tech Hub.

The family created a prototype to address pollution in the world's highest navigable lake, which is shared by Bolivia and Peru.

The initial idea came from 11-year-old Yair Vega, who told EFE he learned that lesser duckweed can proliferate in a body of water to the point of blocking oxygen and sunlight, which can adversely affect aquatic life.

Yair, with help from 6-year-old brother Haziel and their parents, Sandra Hidalgo and Francisco Vega, set to work using the available materials to make a "smart" vacuum cleaner that could identify duckweed and suck it out of the water.

The device incorporates an AI-assisted camera, a motor from one of the kids' toys, a jar, plastic bottles and a Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive single-board computer, Francisco told EFE.

With patience and discipline, the family managed to assemble a functioning prototype and submitted a video of the device in action to Iridescent's AI Family Challenge.

The contest received entries from 135 Bolivian families and more than 7,500 worldwide.

Six families were chosen to present their projects in person during the May 16-19 final phase in Silicon Valley.

"When we received the news of being among the finalists we were very surprised and very grateful to God. The work and the effort were worth it," Sandra Hidalgo told EFE.

The family is still working to improve and refine their idea with guidance from Bolivia Tech Hub, a collaborative space for technology projects that promotes competitions for children and adults.

"We believe that it is very important to promote knowledge in technology from very early on and that is why we also work with children," Bolivia Tech Hub co-founder Pamela Gonzales said.

Support from parents is likewise vital for children, she said, especially the girls, who are often thought to be uninterested in science and technology.

By Yolanda Salazar.

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