The largest lake in South America straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru and has sustained communities in the region for generations. A vital resource for the surrounding area, Lake Titicaca provides clean water to residents, sustains indigenous farmers and fishermen, and powers local towns and villages through hydrokinetic tools – and it’s under threat. Increasing urbanization and inadequate sewage treatment methods pollute the lake and the waterways that feed into it. While environmental laws do exist to protect the lake and nearby waterways, most go unenforced and the pollution continues.

The Vega-Hidalgo family live nearby and frequently visit Lake Titicaca. Observing it’s decline – and specifically, the damage an invasive species called Duckweed inflicts on the lake – they decided to find a solution, starting now. Working together as part of Technovation Families, Sandra, Francisco, Yair (age 11), and Haziel (age 6) invented an AI tool called “Duckweed Vacuum Cleaner” that identifies and removes invasive duckweed from Lake Titicaca using a camera and an image-recognition algorithm. Duckweed is an aggressive non-native species covering 1,200 hectares of the lake’s surface, blocking sunlight from reaching other life in the lake, and damaging the local ecosystem. “Duckweed Vacuum Cleaner” earned the Vega-Hidalgo family a Finalist spot at the AI World Championship this past year where they won the Social Impact Award.

The power of specific solutions 

We love the local, specific focus of this tool, as well as the methodical way the family set about solving the problem. Duckweed is not the only invasive species affecting Lake Titicaca, and Lake Titicaca is not the only waterway damaged by industrialization and pollution. However, the way the Vega-Hidalgo family drew on their personal experience to identify Duckweed as a solvable problem within the larger global problem of pollution – and then acted on that realization — inspires us.The problems facing our planet can feel overwhelming, and it can feel like our efforts don’t add up to much. But think about Duckweed Vacuum Cleaner, and what could happen when it removes the weeds choking the surface of the water – think of the other species that might flourish again, and the people who might see the change, invest in making other changes, and work collectively to protect the lake and surrounding rivers. Problems like water pollution, industrialization, and climate change are immense and will require collaboration across countries and governments to solve – but there’s a place for individuals too!

What problem will you solve?

What interesting ideas do you have about cleaning up your local environment, or helping your community? Where will you start? Join Technovation Families or Technovation Girls now and work with a team to solve a problem you care about. Or, join us as a mentor to support teams of girls and families around the world who are learning, playing and building with technology, having fun and changing the world.