A year long master’s thesis project consulting for Yanmar.

We were tasked to design an innovative product to improve aquaculture operations.

Our team – made up of 4 Stanford students and 3 NTNU students – worked for 8 months to create an innovative product for our corporate sponsor, Yanmar.

On the journey, we were shown Norwegian customs as we visited our teammates abroad, learned so much about oyster farming, and discovered how to dance with ambiguity from our brilliant (if eccentric) professor Larry Leifer.

I must mention that this page is the briefest of summaries of this project. It might even make it look like we had a clear path towards our goal all along, but please don’t mistake a linear webpage, telling a linear story, for what was decidedly not a linear process. We were given a broad prompt to work with and we struggled for months to find our niche in an industry dominated by large research institutions and corporations – not to mention a field we had no experience in. Additionally, we didn’t just work with oyster farmers: we also went to an abalone farm, mussel farm, even an aquaponics farm! With all of these different lines of discovery, we created countless ideas and piles of prototypes that never saw the light of day, but, in the end, we created something we’re not only proud of but also believe can make an impact.

With that, I end my sappy intro. Carry on.

Before we go too much further I want to highlight some of my primary contributions to the project

  • project management
  • user recruitment
  • creating discussion guides
  • interviewing
  • synthesizing research
  • presenting research findings

We used a combination of interviewing and shadowing users to immerse ourselves in the everyday operations of oyster farms. (Note: doing this also required lots of secondary research for us to have a clue of what was going on!)

Our users included, oyster farm crew members, farm managers, and farm owners.

We could not be more grateful to the amazing farms that gave us countless hours of their time.

"That's the name of the game here: how can we make this process less stressful for the oysters"

- Cesar, Farm Crew Lead

So I guess that makes "the oysters" our user?

In that case, I think I see an oyster journey map in our future...

Without getting too bogged down into the details of oyster farming (which is not why you came to this site… right?) here’s a summary of the problem: 

  • Oysters grow at different rates. As they grow, they eventually get too big for the bags they grow in and need to be moved to larger bags.
  • With the current methods, oysters have to be frequently monitored, brought to land, removed from bags, sorted by size, and then taken back out to the water.
  • This process accounts for a majority of the labor at the farms we worked with. Because labor is their largest operating cost, this process is very expensive.
  • Additionally, this process is super stressful to the oysters, so a lot of them don’t make it. 

Enter our journey map, showing our ideal vision for the life of an oyster: a stress-free life where they don’t need to come to land until they’re ready to be eaten harvested. 

Yes, the idea is to have the oysters sort themselves.
Yes, Yanmar thought we were nuts.

Now we fast forward through many, many hours of prototyping and testing.

(please note that, while we may be nuts, it worked!)

And, TADA!

Based on prototype testing, we anticipate our solution would lead to a two-thirds reduction in labor hours during the growth of an oyster.

For the small to mid-sized farms we worked with, this would lead to a 15% reduction in annual operating costs.

Yanmar decided to continue our work on this idea after our final presentation.