The Internet is one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes. But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach.
We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below. It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters.
Google testing out this system now in New Zealand. If they can get it to work they plan to use ballons to provide wireless internet access to hundreds of millions, or even billions, of people that don’t have access now. These ballons would float about 20 km above earth in the stratosphere (so well above where commercial airline traffic) and they are really working somewhat like to satellites.
Though ballons are much cheaper to put in place than satellites they also offer significant problems as they get blow around by wind (which is why they haven’t been used before and why Google is going to experiment to see if they can get it to work). The ballons will use solar power and be controlled by a mission control to move into different wind zones to position themselves.
We need more medical solutions that serve the majority of humanity instead of just the rich. Some medical research is innately costly and therefore require large costs to pay back the investment. But too little concern is shown for solutions that help people (with so much focus only on solutions that will make organizations rich).
This low-tech visual exam cut the cervical cancer death rate by 31 percent, the study found. It could prevent 22,000 deaths in India and 72,600 worldwide each year, researchers estimate.
More progress against cervical cancer may come from last month’s announcement that two companies will drastically lower prices on HPV vaccines for poor countries. Pilot projects will begin in Asia and Africa; the campaign aims to vaccinate more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries by 2020.
India continues to invest in medical research for solutions that are affordable to a majority of the world. The rich health care companies largely neglect the majority to focus on the most wealthy.
Pure Home Water, Ghana manufactures and distributes AfriClay Filters in an effort to bring clean water to 1 million people. So far they have delivered filters to provide 100,000 people clean water.
The process is simple. Water is placed in a clay filter and gravity pulls the water through the pores left in the clay during firing.
Sediment and bacteria are filtered out in several ways:
Physical straining: the particles are too large to fit through the pores in the clay
Sedimentation or adsorption: particles come to rest on or stick to the clay
Inertia: friction in the pores keeps the particles from passing through
Bacteria are also killed by a coating of colloidal silver (a disinfectant), which we apply to all filters that pass our quality control tests. While sediment and bacteria are filtered out, the molecules of water are small enough to pass through the pores in the clay.
The filters are sold to those who will use them. The effort has shown a willingness to pay by villagers in remote Northern Ghana (those earning < US$1/day). I imagine (I am just guessing) the prices are subsidized; in the last decade more (most?) appropriate technology solutions will have those benefiting pay something for the benefits they receive.
I think the video’s message is overly simplistic and unrealistic (great innovations often seem unrealistic so I don’t mind people trying things I don’t think are likely to succeed in the ways they imagine). But I believe in the concepts of using our knowledge to use appropriate technology to make the standard of living better for everyone. Open access to scientific knowledge is important to such efforts and to the economic well being of modern society.
During “the 5 minutes of my presentation 15 children have died from lack of clean drinking water.”
I am thankful we have kids like this to create solutions for us that will make the world a better place. We rely on hundreds of thousands of such people to use science and engineering methods to benefit society.
Scientists have started to use the abilities and prevalence of smartphones to their advantage, creating apps specifically for their studies and crowdsourcing observation and data collection. When almost everyone has an Internet connection, a camera, and a GPS unit right in their phone, almost anyone can gather, organize, and submit data to help move a study along.
The Indicator Bats Program (iBats), a joint project of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology and The Bat Conservation Trust, got its start with a couple of researchers working in Transylvania (of course) in 2006. The idea of the project is to identify and monitor bat populations around the world by the ultrasonic echo-location calls they use to navigate and find prey.
The goal of Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats) is pretty ambitious: “build the go-to platform for documenting all the world’s organisms.” Their app has two modes. “Spottings” lets you take photos of plants and animals you see, categorize and describe them and then submit the data for viewing on NOAH’s website and use by researchers for population and distribution studies.
Invasive plants and animals can crowd out natives, compete with them for food sources and alter the fire ecology of an ecosystem, disrupting its natural balance. Researchers and programmers from UCLA, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the University of Georgia have teamed up to create the What’s Invasive citizen science program and smartphone app. Volunteers can use the app to look up lists of the top invasive species in their area, created by National Park Service rangers and biologists. If they spot a plant or animal from the list, they submit a geo-tagged observation, with optional picture and text notes, so that scientists can locate, identify, study try to remove the species.
Interesting idea to use self propelled robots to provide data on the oceans. They use no fuel to move, they use wave energy. They also have solar panels on the top. The wave gliders can travel to a distant area, collect data, and return to base. One of the big problems with convention methods of collecting data on the oceans is the large costs of placing the buoys (and the cost of servicing them).
As I have said many times scientific breakthroughs often follow many years of effort. Here is a great example of a scientist putting in great work for years and it looks like it is about to payoff for hundreds of millions of people.
Now as I said, Scott’s been pushing this idea of using Wolbachia to control dengue for decades, for a most of that time without any success. I asked Scott what it takes to stick with something for that long.
“I think being obsessive,” he replied. “Being maybe a little ill in that regard. And it’s just that I seem to have focused my obsession onto Wolbachia instead of on to postage stamps or model trains.”
And even though his obsession has brought him to the point where he’s shown he can get his Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to spread in the wild, that’s not the success he’s ultimately after. “Success for me is having a significant impact on dengue disease in communities,” he says.
To do that, he’ll have to release his mosquitoes in a place where there’s a lot of dengue, and then see if that brings down the number of cases of the disease in humans. Those studies are being planned now.
The stakes are high. By some estimates, more than a billion people around the world are at risk for getting dengue. Even if it doesn’t kill you, I’m told a case of dengue can make you feel so bad, wish you were dead.
But Scott says it’s not yet time to celebrate.
“We’ve got some good preliminary data, and we’re on the path. And it’s looking good. But you know I am a realist. It could fall over at any day,” says Scott.
In October, Bangalore-based Simpa Networks Inc. installed a solar panel on Anand’s whitewashed adobe house along with a small metal box in his living room to monitor electricity usage. The 25-year-old rice farmer, who goes by one name, purchases energy credits to unlock the system via his mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go model.
When his balance runs low, Anand pays 50 rupees ($1) — money he would have otherwise spent on kerosene. Then he receives a text message with a code to punch into the box, giving him about another week of electric light.
When he pays off the full cost of the system in about three years, it will be unlocked and he will get free power.
Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.
This is an update on our previous post: sOccket: Power Through Play. This year, Soccket, 3,000 balls are scheduled to be put into use around the world. The college students (all women, by the way) that came up with this idea (harnessing the kenetic energy created while kicking a football [soccer ball] around to power a batter to use for lighting) are continuing to test and develop the product.
That ball has to be able to survive dusty, wet and harsh conditions and continue to provide power. The new, production version of the football powers a water sterilizer, fan, and provides up to 24 hours of LED light. It also can’t be deflated (a side affect of a design that is able to survive the rough environments, I believe).
I love to see engineers focusing on providing solutions for the billions of people that need simple solutions. Creating the next iPhone innovations is also cool, but the impact of meeting the needs of those largely ignored today, is often even greater.
The sOccket inventors also have a talent for publicity, which is always useful for entrepreneurs.
Knowing nothing about Third-World development, the original [Engineers Without Borders] EWB students accepted an assignment from the national EWB to bring clean water wells and sanitary latrines to 58 elementary schools in the poor Khwisero district, where villagers live by subsistence farming.
Each year, new MSU students take up the challenge, aiming not only to provide healthier drinking water but to relieve Kenyan children of the chore of hiking more than a mile to fetch water every day from dirty water holes, which cuts into their schooling, particularly for girls.
They finally broke ground on their first pipeline system, which has been three years in the making. It will bring piping water from a high-quality well to several villages and eventually to a health clinic and a market. Villagers have committed to digging trenches for the water pipes.
This is a great program. Students learn a great deal by taking on real world problems and implementing solutions. As I have said before, I really love to see appropriate technology solutions put in place. We can drastically improve people’s lives by helping put solutions in place that work, are cost effective and can be maintained. Improving people’s quality of life is at the core of why engineering is so wonderful.