by The Island Features Desk
Thiman T. Dulsara Kumarage’s final year dissertation for his BSc. (Hons.) Software Engineering degree at ICBT Colombo, awarded by Cardiff Metropolitan University, tackles three modern-day problems with the development of an IoT (Internet of Things) based smart locker system. The Island met Kumarage, who is also an undergraduate at Plymouth University (NSBM), parallelly following a BSc. (Hons.) Computer Security, to talk at length about his latest project.”
Q: What are the problems you are trying to solve?
A: Of the three major problems, one concerned the Last Mile Delivery [Last mile delivery is defined as the movement of goods from a transportation hub to the final delivery destination. The final delivery destination is typically a personal residence; another contactless parcel exchange, and finally, the short-term rental key exchange problem.
Regarding the last mile delivery, according to multiple studies, most door-to-door delivery companies incur over 50 percent of their total delivery costs during the final door-to-door delivery efforts. Having to go door-to-door with multiple parcels while doing redeliveries for missed attempts, these companies need to maintain a large number of delivery personnel and vehicles.
Furthermore, fuel costs, maintenance of vehicles, insurance for vehicles and staff against accidents and domestic issues such as dog bites at delivery points heavily increase the costs they must incur, which they do by passing it down to the customer as well. From a customer perspective, door-to-door deliveries can sometimes be highly inconvenient, especially for people who work away from home. Many often find themselves having to take time off work to be home to collect parcels on delivery dates, or make other arrangements such as troubling friends, family or neighbours to collect on their behalf as they know the alternative is risking porch piracy [porch piracy refers to a situation in which an individual steals a package from a porch or other area near the main entrance of a residence before the recipient can retrieve it] or missed delivery, in which case they must go to a distant office to collect their parcel.
Contactless parcel exchange is yet another modern-day problem. Due to the very busy schedules we all run, when a requirement to exchange parcels with friends or family arises, we often struggle to find a common timeslot when both parties are free to engage in the exchange, causing one of the parties to go out of their way to make time to adjust to the other’s schedule.
Finally, concerning the short-term rental key exchange problem; in modern times we often book apartments and other accommodation options online, such as on Airbnb and Agoda. However, the actual key exchange between the landlord and the rentee still requires physical contact. Given that the amount of money that can be made renting property short-term is much higher than long-term rentals, this is a major incentive for landlords. However, given that landlords often must rush or wait to exchange keys with the rentees, the cleaning crews or maintenance crews, making this an active income stream which requires a lot of time commitment; many landlords opt for the passive income path of long-term rentals, even at lower rates. Although some landlords trust security or cleaning personnel to do the key exchange for them, there had been many cases where such staff had illegally rented apartments without the landlord’s consent, even for illegal activities.
These were the three primary issues I was trying to address in my project.
Q: How does your solution resolve the problem?
A: The project proposes an IoT-based smart automated locker system. It proposes a system in which such lockers would be located in public places similar to ATMs. A person could come to the locker, place an item and provide the details of the intended recipient. Once the item is stored and locked, the recipient is automatically informed, via text and email, of the package waiting them, along with the details for the locker, and the password (key) with which to retrieve it. It is in essence like a locker that you can lock an item in, and virtually send the key to the recipient with which to unlock it.
When it comes to the last mile delivery issue, delivery personnel can deliver missed deliveries to the nearest automated locker, drastically increasing their delivery efficiency by not having to attempt redeliveries. From a customer’s perspective, they could choose to get their items delivered to these lockers rather than their homes, so they don’t need to cancel their plans to stay home to collect parcels or risk porch piracy. Once delivered to the locker, the recipient can simply collect their parcels from the locker on their way home from work. When more and more customers opt to get items delivered to the lockers, the number of door-to-door deliveries drop, which can lead to a drastic reduction in delivery costs, which benefits both the companies and customers.
The same logic applies for contactless parcel delivery. When it comes to the key exchange problem, this offers many benefits, ranging from making short-term rental services a passive operation, encouraging more landlords to engage in this form of rentals, to reducing rental cost dispute issues, as the locker can maintain a log of exactly when the keys were collected and returned, as short-term rental fees are often paid for set periods of hours.
Q: Is this a novel solution?
A: Although it’s not available in Sri Lanka, similar systems are very popular aboard as a way of addressing last-mile delivery issues. However, this concept hasn’t been specifically used for key exchange by any major service provider.
Q: Is there any difference between this project and the current systems available abroad?
A: The primary shortcoming of the lockers used in foreign countries is that it has led to many disputes with delivery companies over stolen deliveries. Delivery personnel often falsely claim that they have delivered items by simply opening and closing empty lockers without placing any item inside, stealing the items. The recipient gets the alert of the delivery as intended. However, when they open the locker, they find it empty. Given that the dispute process with delivery companies is often lengthy, customers typically don’t waste time on disputes, but contact the seller direct and request refunds for the stolen goods.
This had also led to other unintended risks, such as dishonest customers who collect parcels from lockers before falsely requesting refunds from sellers claiming they were stolen. Due to this being such a major issue in foreign countries, many sellers refuse to offer delivery options to these automated lockers. A concept filled with potential has hit a roadblock due to this lack of confidence.
In the proposed solution, I have proposed to place load/weight sensors in all compartments. When a delivery is made, the locker logs the time of delivery, and once the locker door is closed, it also measures its weight. This information is then included in the message sent to the customer and delivery company. This in essence, provides irrefutable evidence to all parties if a dispute is to ever occur. This also addresses the vital need for confidence in the system.
Q: What research have you undertaken to justify the proposal?
A: As a part of the research conducted to gather international data through secondary sources for the project, I have undertaken data collection and analysis of multiple peer-reviewed research papers and journals. Furthermore, I have interviewed a number of delivery personnel in both Sri Lanka and abroad where such locker systems exist, as well as landlords with short-term rentals to get an in-depth understanding of the variables and influences concerned. In addition, I have personally experienced such delivery disputes during my time abroad.
Q: What are the deliverables of
A: At the conclusion of the project, I’ve been able to produce a proof-of-concept smart-locker, powered by a Raspberry Pi 4 and an Atmel microcontroller, controlled by a custom-made software for the locker, and an android mobile application for the end user. The deliverables were strictly designed for closed-testing and proof-of-concept purposes, to assess the feasibility of the technology.
Q: Have you undertaken any other similar projects?
A: I have both directly undertaken or have been involved in multiple IoT based projects, as the primary overall systems designer, including highlight projects such as a ‘human-elephant cohabitation’ (HackaDev) project which proposed a new take on human-elephant conflicts, and a Web and Mobile controlled smart home solution project which allows users to use low-cost non-smart appliances such as normal lights or fans along with smart-home features.
Thiman Kumarage wishes to thank lecturer, Induneth De Silva, and his supervisor, Vindya Karunarathne, for their kind guidance throughout the project. He is grateful to the management and staff of Alucare (Pvt.) Ltd. and SilverReed Advertising Services (Pvt.) Ltd. for their kind assistance in helping him build the physical structure of the locker system according to his specifications. He thanks his parents for all the mental and financial support to make all his projects a reality.
Dominances, hegemonies and diversities
by Nicola Perera
What spaces exist for students and staff of ethnic and religious minorities, within the university? Do students and staff in these groups have the liberty and security to openly identify themselves, claim their identities, be visible? Do either university structures and policies or the culture and attitudes within the university community, ensure a lack of discrimination, with the same rights, privileges and opportunities, for such persons to live, work, and study in an environment of acceptance, without hostility or marginalisation? I speak of the ethos of majoritarianism, located in a university of the south, which is predominantly the normative of education in the country.
If I were to ask students, staff, or administrators how persons of ethnic and religious minorities are treated in the university, I suspect they would immediately point to the existence of cultural groups that have long been established in university culture. Most universities and faculties will have a Tamil Society, a Hindu Students’ Society, a Muslim Majlis, various Christian groupings, and so on. Each will organise various cultural festivals, such as carols for Christmas, Ifthar, etc. At first glance, there appears to be representation and accommodation of ethnic and religious minorities, and this is institutionalised within the university.
But this accommodation is superficial and tokenistic. Against the existence of these various groups, consider the Student Union itself, which formally represents the entire student body. Who do they actually represent? The Student Union in the Faculty of Arts organises Buddhist festivals, pinkamas, and all-night piriths at the beginning of the year, as well as inviting Buddhist monks for Poyas, like Vesak and Poson. The major event of the year for the Student Union is the Sahithya Ulela, for which the Union goes all out: portraits of the greats of Sinhala literature adorn the pillars of the Faculty, together with quotations from their works. The drama festival is a huge part of the Sahithya Ulela, during which hugely popular Sinhala plays are performed.
This is the way things have always been in the university’s framework of majority default and minority tolerance. There are religious and cultural student societies to represent and take care of non-Buddhist and non-Sinhala students, representing deviations from the norm, while the Student Union itself, regardless of its political/ideological tendency, firmly represents and centres Sinhala-Buddhist religious and cultural concerns instead of the diverse student body as a whole. The majority culture is dominant to the point where it is the ubiquitous default, and all minority positions are tokenised into tolerated representations. It is a system and space that privileges my ethnic background, where my presence goes unquestioned, unremarked upon and unmarked.
On the other hand, what discriminations, aggressions, and microaggressions do students and staff of ethnic and religious minorities face in and outside class? What could they tell us, if we could only assure them of the security to openly talk about such things without fear of retaliation? What is our role as academic staff, regardless of discipline, to initiate difficult conversations about inclusion, acceptance, to challenge the biases, prejudices, absences? What microaggressions, hostilities, subtle or overt othering do we as staff and administrators perpetrate? What is the culture that we create in university?
What of the class of Muslim students who were told that they can keep their cultural identity but should wear colourful abayas and hijabs, instead of the dark colours they preferred? What of the Muslim staff member who was requested to come and speak to these students, to present herself as a role model who chose to wear colourful shalwars while covering her head? Is it in any way relevant that these requests were made by a staff member clad in Kandyan sari? Of course, it is: the representation of Sinhala Buddhist culture as the university’s default makes its aesthetics and preferences the standard, which apparently Sinhala individual staff members feel empowered to enforce.
What of the Muslim women students who were stopped at the entrance of the university after the Easter bombings? The security guards told them to wear their hijabs in such a way as to show their ears. Is the university capable of recognising this harassment as harassment? Was this an officially-sanctioned policy that required the security guards to act this way? Or were they merely empowered to perform this harassment in that moment by the long-established practice of treating Sinhala culture, dress, and presentation as normal and default, with all marked minority cultures as suspicious deviations? Would the existence of the Muslim Majlis be sufficient to let these students agree with the common perspective that the university – by policy or practice – does not discriminate on the basis of religious/ethnic grounds? Could these students have gotten away with showing impatience, even a touch of hauteur (as I did when I produced my ID card for inspection) at the guards’ power to remark on their ethnicity, police their attire – in myriad small ways to let them know that their presence in the university space was under surveillance, at the majority’s sufferance?
It is not enough for the university to complacently point at tokenistic student groups as evidence of non-discrimination. Even the simple representation of diversity, at which the university is already failing, would still not be enough: including Tamil-language plays at the Sahithya Ulela and making sure to include the portraits of Tamil and Muslim writers as well is necessary, but far from sufficient. What we need is active anti-discrimination, in both word and deed, to identify these situations and contexts in which staff and students of religious and ethnic minorities in our universities are harassed, othered, and discriminated against every day, and to figure out ways to end those practices and prevent them from recurring, through policy, through education, and through our own efforts as the people who uphold and perpetuate university culture.
Nicola Perera is attached to the Department of English Language Teaching, University of Colombo.
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Prevent growth of extremism through stronger institutions
By Jehan Perera
The killing of a Sri Lankan, in Pakistan, by a frenzied mob, who accused him of committing an act of blasphemy, serves as a grim reminder of the ever-present danger of pent-up emotion exploding in society. Over the eons, religion has served to humanize the more primitive nature, lurking within human beings. “Be kind to the stranger in your midst, because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt,” is the biblical injunction too often ignored by the very people who profess to follow its teachings. It is not only in Pakistan that such inhuman acts have occurred, especially when there has been a failure of national leadership to instill a higher ethos of morality in the people, too often for the sake of electoral gain.
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan has been accused of defending Pakistan’s blasphemy law and promoting Islamic fundamentalism to come to power and now to shore up support for his government that is failing to solve the problems of the people. A clause of the constitution mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against the Holy Prophet. Presently Pakistan faces economic sanctions by the EU, as does Sri Lanka, due to its adherence to this law and other human rights issues. The EU has raised issues related to the protection of journalists, religious extremism, misuse of blasphemy laws, and forced conversion in some parts of the country. A compromised political environment in which there is impunity leads people to take the law into their own hands according to their notions of what is right and wrong.
Mobilising the emotions of people, whether by religion or ethnic nationalism, to gain and retain power, is like sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other members of the Sri Lankan government have expressed their strong condemnation of the heinous crime against its citizens and demanded justice. Prime Minister Khan has pledged justice and referred to the “day of shame” for Pakistan. More than a hundred alleged participants in the crime have been arrested. There have also been images of Pakistani civil society groups saying sorry for what has happened. Likewise, Sri Lankan civil society will also recall the support that Pakistan gave to Sri Lanka during the years of war and, diplomatically, on the issues of human rights violations raised by sections of the international community.
It is also necessary for Sri Lankans to be mindful about what has happened within Sri Lanka itself during the JVP insurrection, the 1983 riots, and, more recently, in Aluthgama, Digana and Kurunegala. In all of these instances, there was a measure of state complicity, or inaction, which is worse than the savage deeds of a mob as the state represents the civilization of the country. This state failure has been on account of the over-politicisation of the state machinery to the point where senior officers of the state, most of whom have joined the state for idealistic reasons, cannot and do not perform their duties due to political interference. In a manner similar to Prime Minister Khan, President Rajapaksa, and the current government, won elections by catering to the nationalism and fears of the ethnic majority, with some of its allies spewing hatred towards the ethnic and religious minorities.
There are disturbing signs that the situation of state failure is growing more serious in Sri Lanka. The release of former Governor Azath Salley after he had been in remand jail for eight months on charges that the court said were not sustainable. All charges against him by the Attorney General were dismissed as they lacked merit. The injustice done to him and his family, the loss of eight months of his life and his reputation, require reparations which may be forthcoming as he is a person of stature. There will be countless others who are less able to fight their cases, like the former Governor did. In addition, there have been several killings in police custody of prisoners who are alleged to have tried to escape when taken to find their store of weapons or in cross fire or by suicide. Making matters worse is that in some of these cases the families and lawyers of the imprisoned persons have given advance warning that those held in custody are scheduled to be killed, but nothing is done and the deaths take place.
The same inability or unwillingness to ensure accountability can be seen at multiple levels, be it in relation to the manner in which the three-decade long war ended, or the Easter Sunday bombings, or the Central Bank bond scandal, or the sugar tax scandal, the Yugadanavi Power Plant issue and, most recently, the explosion of large numbers of cooking gas cylinders which have led to deaths and burning down of people’s homes. In none of these cases has investigations led to the masterminds being found and meted out justice. With time, the cases might be forgotten and the wrongdoers get away with their crimes. Perhaps it is in apprehension of the potential crisis situation in the country that the Supreme Court has written a strong judgement in a case that is representative of the people’s sense of compassion and care for all living beings as directed by the sacred religious texts. This was with regard to whether elephants captured from the wild and taken to homes and temples as objects of social prestige should be returned to their supposed owners or released to the wild or sent to protected sanctuaries.
In a decision that can have far reaching ramifications for the rule of law, and for the system of checks and balances, and wisely in a case that is less politically controversial, the Court cited a famous judgement by Lord Denning in the English Courts where he said, “It is settled in our constitutional law that in matters that concern the public at large the Attorney General is the guardian of the public interest. Although he is a member of the government of the day, it is his duty to represent the public interest with complete objectivity and detachment. He must act independently of any external pressure for whatever quarter it may come.” The Court said that “these observations aptly apply to the role of the Attorney General of Sri Lanka.” Notably the respondents in this case were the Prime Minister and Minister of Wildlife.
If positions, such as the Attorney General, are to be filled with persons who will make decisions in line with the Court judgement above, it is necessary that they should be persons with integrity and competence. They also need the space to be able to do their work without political interference. It was to achieve this objective that two different governments, headed by two different political leaders from two different political parties took steps to ensure the passage of the 17th and 19th amendments in 2001 and 2015 respectively. These two amendments had the common feature of reducing the President’s powers and seeking to increase the independence of state institutions from political interference. A police force that is independent of political influencers, who act behind the scenes, is more likely to act with integrity in dealing with the impunity that is growing in the country.
The government’s pledge of a new draft constitution, before the end of the year, provides an opportunity to reform the system of governance and put an end to the multifarious violations and weaknesses in it that breeds impunity and resentment which is the fuel for extremism of all sorts. The political space should be kept secular, unlike in the case of Pakistan with its religious law, and kept free from religious or ethnic nationalist biases. The reintroduction of the scheme of appointment of higher officials of state, through a multi-partisan constitutional council consisting of members of government, Opposition and civil society, would lead to better appointments than the President alone making the appointments. The members of the constitutional council would together select the most appropriate persons to high offices of state and to insulate them from politically-motivated interference. This is particularly important in the case of the higher judiciary, the last bastion of freedom in a democracy that is going wrong. The present deterioration in the integrity and quality of decision-making at multiple levels and in multiple institutions highlights the need for a strong system of government, based on checks and balances–real good governance.
Action…in the coming weeks
The lead up to Christmas, and the New Year, certainly doesn’t look ‘blue,’ in any way.
Initially, I was thinking of Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Christmas’ – what with the pandemic, and the new variant, creating chaos…everywhere.
But…yes, the showbiz scene here seems to have changed, for the better.
On December 8th (that’s tomorrow), ‘The Legends of Ceylon’ is the title of a musical evening, that will take place, from 7.00 pm onwards, at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, featuring Geoffrey Fernando, Mignonne, Noeline, Sohan, Dalrene, and Manilal, backed by the group Mirage.
Sohan & The X-Periments, a name associated with sing-along events, will be involved in two sing-alongs this month – on December 12th at The Grand Kandyan Hotel, and on December 17th at the BMICH Banquet Hall.
The Christmas Sing-Along, in Kandy, commencing at 7.00 pm, will have, in the vocal spotlight, Corrine, Clifford Richard, Sohan, and Trishelle, along with The X-Periments.
The 17th event, at the BMICH, from 7.30 pm onwards, will also feature Corrine, Clifford Richard, Sohan, and Trishelle, with guest stars Falan Andrea and Radika.
Sohan indicated to us that the festive scene seems to be brightening up, a bit, and that he and his band do have work coming their way,
“We are going to be pretty busy for the next few weeks.”
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