Monthly Archives: December 2012

Development aid versus sustainable development cooperation

One has to understand the difference between development aid and development cooperation very well before discussing how the people in the south can be helped in a sustainable way. First let us explain the four pillars of development aid/cooperation. The first one is bilateral which means between two countries, for example Belgium and Congo. The second is multilateral and it involves the multinationals, for example EU and AU. The third pillar consists of the  NGO’s, non-governmental organizations, and the fourth pillar includes all the rest.

Have a look at the following video of the Bill Gates & Melinda foundation:

Paying for vaccines for people who cannot afford them is one of the things that the foundation does. This foundation has gathered a huge amount of money for a certain goal. If people in for example Somalia are in need of a certain medicine, then this foundation buys vaccines and gives them to the people in need. THIS is DEVELOPMENT AID! There is a specific problem/need, it is solved by buying food, vaccines, water, etc.  and afterwards giving it to the people.
Development aid is humanitarian help and indeed it saves a lot of lives, but it doesn’t contribute in the long term well-being of the people!  You can give a poor child one dollar so he can eat that day, but the next day he will be hungry again because he still has not money to feed himself.

Sustainable development cooperation is a dynamic process of mutual learning and adjusting. It is about patiently building relations of trust and creating a mutual sense of responsibility. Development aid is about donor-logics and development cooperation is about actor-logics!
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With our project, we wish to support the people and create their future together with them. It is very important that the people are involved in the process. Jobs have to be created for those people, the local economy has to be stimulated, education needs to be implemented and people need to have the chance to learn how to earn their own money!


How to make computers capable of letting spaghetti cause an identity crisis?

The little fellow below is Sven, the budgerigar (grasparkiet). He’s holding a toy, because he’s playing fetch with his owner. A lot of dog owners would be pretty proud for such a feat, mosts owned dogs would not do it as well.

A budgerigar waiting to play fetch

I’m a dinosaur (really, I am). Want to play with me?

Birds like this are sold starting at around $15. If you want the smartest bird though, $15 is a rip-off. You could catch yourself a raven, which were observed using strategy while hunting in the wild, or crows who were observed in lab tests to precisely make their own tools to reach food. The smartest bird is arguably actually the European Magpie (ekster), which you could -though obviously, you shouldn’t…- capture as well. Then you could harness the power of its 5.8 gram brain, and teach it to speak. Most importantly though: it’s the only non-mammal that scientists agree recognize themselves in a mirror, and recognize when something’s wrong with their appearance. In other words, they use mirrors like you might in the morning.

Now meet the PR2. You can get your own starting at 400,000$.


I’m two desktop computers (take my word for it, or start digging). Want to play?

Much like Sven, the PR2 is pretty cute and engaging. He has 2 computers for ‘feet’. Good computers… A very high-end CPU and 24 GB RAM each. But, they’re plain computers. Pretty close to the desktops at groupT, or the one I have under my desk (but closer to the one under my desk ;-)). They run Ubuntu, though you could install Windows or OSX on them, and they communicate with each other over a network cable. They have a bunch of cameras and sensors plugged in to them, as well as drivers for some attached motors. All of that combined, is the robot you’re looking at. All you have to do to make it work, is run a set of applications on the computers, that form the interface to the hardware.

Suppose you have a desktop at GroupT (or your work, institute, whatever…), and we give it some distinctive visual features. We give it a webcam, and write some software for it so that when presented with it’s reflection the desktop can detect itself. And it has to be able to do that with the mirror reflecting from any random location. A student drops a plate of spaghetti on the computer, covering it, and it’s taken to the basement to wash it off. Would our program still enable the computer to recognize itself, covered in spaghetti in the basement? A magpie would.

The PR2 doesn’t have to recognize itself covered in spaghetti. Worse… My task is to get such a robot to autonomously bake pancakes. More specifically, to provide and analyze the visual feedback. I’m required to only use visual feedback, so I don’t just get to poke at stuff, use microphones,…

He has to pour dough until he sees it’s enough, on a surface he determined he’s made greasy enough. The surface or tools aren’t known in advance. And he has to see whether or not the pancake is ready, or perhaps burning. “Should I turn up the heat, because the pancake isn’t doing much?” He has to see and recognize, whatever I think he needs to see, to complete his task.

My blog will deal with a single, two-fold, question: how do you get a desktop computer to bake a pancake, and what are the implications and other uses of the tools you use to do that?

Safety in ‘III/V processing’

Dear all,

In the following text I will give a little explanation about my masterthesis

The title of my masterthesis is ‘Safety issues of III/V processing in microchip manufacturing’. I do this in cooperation with Imec which is situated in Heverlee, Belgium.
My primary supervisor is the head of security of Imec , and actually I work for him. I also stay in close contact with the engineers and a group of scientists that work on this project.

The project didn’t started a long time ago so the work I am going to do can be very crucial for the development of those safety issues which makes it much more interesting for me and it is a bigger challenge because it’s a starting branch of a big and successful company.

In a first stage I have to understand how a microchip is fabricated and how it works. All the steps have to be clear. I also have to understand the techniques that are used to fabricate a microchip.
After this step I had to give a presentation at Imec in front of the head of security and it went great.
Now I am walking in to the second phase which is the understanding of all the chemical reactions of III/V processing and the safety hazards that come with them.
After this brief introduction I am going to discuss the biggest difference between the normal way of fabricating a microchip and III/V processing.

In normal IC development the different layers of the microchip are put on each other. For example we start with a p-doped Silicium (IV) substrate and we start to put other materials on top of this to for example form a pn- and np-junction or to protect the layer beneath (this is done by SiN, TiSi2)… After almost every step that a new layer is composed there has to be an ‘etching-‘or ‘masking’-step. In these steps a part of the layer is removed to form a connection hole or to be filled up with another material. These etching steps are crucial and critical steps because they are often performed by a chemical reaction. Due to this chemical reaction gasses can be formed that can give safety hazards.

In III/V processing the microchip is formed out of components of the third and fifth column of the table of Mendeljev. The base of the microchip is already formed. We don’t work from top to bottom by putting layers on top of each other. A question that may rise is: How do you form the connection holes? And how can the microchip are provided of the necessary material? This is done by penetrating the microchip from the top to the desired layer. This is again done by different etching steps. These etching steps are different from those used in the normal IC manufacturing.

My key purpose is to discover the chemical reaction that occur in these etch-steps and try to find alternatives of solutions to ensure the safety of the employees at Imec. The final goal is to elaborate a risk-analysis. This is not only done by me but in cooperation with the head of security and the engineers.

‘Die Energiewende’ in Germany

As explained in the first post, Flidar gathers data on offshore sites for the possibility of windfarms. As the Flidar project is partially confidential, we cannot fully discuss the content of our thesis.  As subject for this blog we will discuss the possibilities, problems and the future of offshore renewable energy production.

Recently there were two interesting videos on the VRT news (Dutch). They show how Germany is investing in renewable energy today, the advantages it brings but also the problems that coinside. In this post we will discuss the energiewende by 2022 in Germany.

Video 1 – Energiewende Germany

Video 2 – Energiewende Germany

Germany is investing enormously on being nuke-free in 2022, to achieve this goal they are building lots of new windfarms and solar installations. One of the biggest problems this brings is the capacity of the power net. Renewable energy is a more unpredictable source and has high peaks and low dips, for this reason the power net could get an overload or insufficient energy.

As a solution to the energy dips more energy storage could be the solution. Today, the most effective way to store energy is still pumping it to a higher location when you have an excess of power, and letting it drop again through a turbine and generator to supply energy in case of a shortage. As for now, there are not enough pumpinstallations to supply the needs. A few years ago they needed to intervene a few dozen of times a year. Today, this number has increased to a few hundred interventions a year.

For solving the overload  they estimate 3000km of new high-voltage cables will be needed in Germany. Another problem for the power net is the region where they produce their energy. Wind power is mostly harvested in the north at sea or near the shore. But most of the factorys and energy consuming industry of Germany lie in the south, which causes more transport of energy and as for now they still don’t know who will build and pay for this.

By 2020 they want 35% renewable energy, compared to Belgium where the goal is 13% by 2020, it is an enourmous amount. For Belgium, where they plan for a nuclear exit in 2025 there is still a lot of work to be done.

Sources: ,,

Relevance of our thesis and subject of blog

What attracted us the most to this thesis was the fact that we can go to a foreign country and actually build something. And by doing so we can help poor people in an emerging country. We see it as volunteer work for engineers, we get the opportunity to see more of the world, have a great experience and the local people get very cheap technical support.

Our goal is to develop a very cheap solar boiler that isn’t complex. In this way the community can learn how to build it and spread their knowledge to others. So by its low complexity and low cost it can be built cheap and easily. To give you some numbers, if you want to install a solar boiler in Belgium it will cost you about € 5000 (€ 850 thanks to subsidies) and our goal is less than €800.

We will improve an existing program (written in Matlab) which determines the best design according to the given parameters.

On this blog we are going to talk about a bigger picture of our project, sustainable development cooperation. We will talk about the difference with development aid by explaining  the four pillars of development aid/cooperation. We will also discuss the following question: “Development cooperation, why?” . We think that the key in the whole search for answers will be ‘sustainability’!