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Posts about cool products including high tech gadgets, appropriate technology solutions and possible products in the future. Recommended posts: Lego Learning (mindstorms) - Lifestraw - Video Goggles - Wakamaru Robot - Re-engineered Wheelchair

Protecting Cows with Lion Lights

It is wonderful to see what great things people accomplish to improve their lives using sensible, and fairly simple, engineering.

15 Year-Old Kenyan Prodigy, Richard Turere, Who Created “Lion Lights”

He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel. They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

The astonishing aspect of this is that Turere installed the whole system by himself, without receiving any training in electronics or engineering.

This is a great video which includes good examples of the value to experimenting, learning and adapting. Iteration is a critical skill when developing solutions. Try out prototypes and learn from what happens. Use that knowledge to develop new solutions or modify the existing solutions and experiment some more. Continue to iterate and improve.

This is another great example of people using their initiative, creativity and engineering talent to create appropriate technology solutions to create solutions that improve their lives. It is great to see how these efforts continue over time, this BBC article follows up on Richard Turere several years after his initial success:

What happened to the boy who chased away the lions?

The Lion Lights system is now in 750 homesteads in Richard’s community and beyond, with the innovator making small tweaks and improvements to each version.

Lion Lights 2.0 costs $200 (£150) to install. Half of the money usually comes from NGOs while the rest is provided by the herder.

This version has 16 different flashing light settings and Richard’s latest update is a homemade wind turbine for days when clouds limit the solar power potential.

But while his idea has travelled, support for Richard as a young innovator and the implementation of his own Lion Lights has stalled in recent years. He thinks Kenya could do more to help young innovators like himself.

“There are many young people in Kenya with brilliant ideas, better even than mine – they just need support,” he says.

They need someone to be there to tell them, “this idea is really nice., let’s develop it to help communities”.

The efforts of so many great young people to create solutions that make the world a better place are inspiring.

Related: Electric WindBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsAppropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MITUsing The Building of Robots to Engage Students in Learning

Using Horizontal Polarized Optics to Block Screens

Animated polarizer in front of a computer flat screen

Animated of a polarizer in front of a computer screen (via Wikipedia).


These interesting glasses block LCD/LED screens through horizontal polarized optics. I think this is more an interesting application of science that a useful product but maybe some people actually would like the product.

The video below looks at how IRL Glasses block most TVs (LCD/LED) and some computers (LCD/LED). IRL Glasses do not yet block smartphones or digital billboards (OLED).

Related: App to allow a user to use American Sign Language to interact with AlexaAutonomous Delivery Robots Launched in Europe and USA3D Printing at Home: Today, Challenges and OpportunitiesThe Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer

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Saving Lives with Appropriate Technology Health Care Solutions: Treating Infant Pneumonia

How a shampoo bottle is saving young lives, a doctor in Bangladesh has found a simple way to treat infant pneumonia

Last year 920,000 children under the age of five died of pneumonia, making it the leading killer of people in that age group. This figure is falling (in 2011 it was 1.2m), but it still represents 16% of all infant deaths. Such deaths are not, however, evenly distributed. In Bangladesh pneumonia causes 28% of infant mortality.

Dr Chisti says that, as well as saving lives, his device has cut the hospital’s spending on pneumonia treatment by nearly 90%. The materials needed to make his version of a bubble-CPAP ventilator cost a mere $1.25. The device also consumes much less oxygen than a conventional ventilator. In 2013 the hospital spent $30,000 on supplies of the gas. In 2017 it spent $6,000.

Efforts are underway to test this innovation and spread the adoption of this appropriate technology solution to other poor countries. It is wonderful to see engineering innovation making such important improvements in health care around the world.

Related: Appropriate Technology Health Care Solution Could Save 72,000 Lives a Year (low-tech visual exam cut the cervical cancer death rate)Drone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda$1 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice AgainWristband Thermometer Can Save Many Babies’ Lives

Usability for All

Technology can provide huge benefits when we take care to use it wisely. Considering usability is extremely important and we need to keep focusing on improving usability. This video shows an interesting application by Abhishek Singh’s to increase the usability of “smart speakers.” His app runs on a tablet allow a user to use American Sign Language to interact with Alexa (it displays Alexa’s responses in text on the table).

Related: Getting Closer to a Universal Translator (2010)NASA You Have a Problem with Usability (2008)Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT (2014)

Growing Citrus in the Snow

The system uses the constant ground temperature 2.5 meters (8 feet) below ground to heat a greenhouse. The underground-temperature on his farm is 11 degrees (52 degrees Fahrenheit). Other nearby areas range from 9 to 17 degrees (17 is near a hot spring).

Just circulating air through 64 meters (210 feet) of tubing buried 2.5 meters underground is enough to allow citrus and other plants to thrive. Selling at local farmer’s markets brings in a very high profit for farmers that can grow and sell locally.

Using the power of the sun to grow and the constant ground temperature to keep the air warm enough creates an opportunity to grow all year round. The same principles can be used to cool down indoor temperatures in very hot locations near the equator.

Due to the controlled environment growing organically is easy so that further increases the payoff for this type of farming.

The cost of the system can be as low as $25,000 if you have access to a backhoe to dig the trenches for the air pipes and can do much of the labor yourself. That is the cost of just the heating systems for a conventional greenhouse.

I really like this type of intersection of engineering and business (as well as environment and health benefits – providing healthy local food) that creates value to society by using our knowledge effectively.

Learn more at Citrus in the Snow. The Nebraska farmer (seen in the video) has been growing Citrus in Nebraska this way since 1992.

Related: Sustainable Ocean FarmingBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsFor Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSmall Farm Robots

Toyota’s Newest Humanoid Partner Robot

T-HR3 reflects Toyota’s broad-based exploration of how advanced technologies can help to meet people’s unique mobility needs. T-HR3 represents an evolution from previous generation instrument-playing humanoid robots, which were created to test the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements, to a platform with capabilities that can safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space.

“The Partner Robot team members are committed to using the technology in T-HR3 to develop friendly and helpful robots that coexist with humans and assist them in their daily lives. Looking ahead, the core technologies developed for this platform will help inform and advance future development of robots to provide ever-better mobility for all,” said Akifumi Tamaoki, General Manager, Partner Robot Division.

T-HR3 is controlled from a Master Maneuvering System that allows the entire body of the robot to be operated instinctively with wearable controls that map hand, arm and foot movements to the robot, and a head-mounted display that allows the user to see from the robot’s perspective. The system’s master arms give the operator full range of motion of the robot’s corresponding joints and the master foot allows the operator to walk in place in the chair to move the robot forward or laterally. The Self-interference Prevention Technology embedded in T-HR3 operates automatically to ensure the robot and user do not disrupt each other’s movements.

Onboard T-HR3 and the Master Maneuvering System, motors, reduction gears and torque sensors (collectively called Torque Servo Modules) are connected to each joint. These modules communicate the operator’s movements directly to T-HR3’s 29 body parts and the Master Maneuvering System’s 16 master control systems for a smooth, synchronized user experience.

Learn more on Toyota’s news site.

Related: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009)Robots for Health Care from Toyota (2017)Toyota Human Support Robot (2012)Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard (2015)

Simple and Cheap Security Camera with 2 Way Audio and Backup to Cloud via Wifi

This is a cool product at a very reasonable price: $30.

The device offers a 1080p HD smart home camera with 14 days of free rolling cloud storage, wide-angle lens, two-way audio and the ability to send alerts to your phone. You setup the device to use a local wifi network and control it via a smartphone application.

I have long wanted such a product (they have been available for a few years but haven’t been cheap) and now they are available at a great price. The main drawback I see is that it requires a power connection (it doesn’t have a battery option). So setting it up as a doorbell is a bit of an issue (you have to get power to it somehow).

Order your camera. Learn more about the device from Wyzecam

Related: Camera Trap Images of Very Rare Wild CatsAnswer Your Doorbell with Your Smartphone Wherever You Are (and see video of who is at the door) (from 2015Video Cat CamCanon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera

Building a Network of Tunnels Underground to Ease the Flow of Traffic

Guest post by Aron Alba

“Roads must go 3D” – Elon Musk

The Boring company plans to build the network of tunnels under the ground in order to combat traffic congestions all over United States. As seen in their presentation video, the idea is to construct a system of tunnels in which electric vehicles autonomously zip around cars, people and cargo transport in high speed under the surface (like a scene from a science fiction movie).

The ride would begin with the lift that lowers the vehicles from the surface into the tunnel system. These lifts could be a possible bottleneck for the entire system, but it may be the best solution. To secure the vehicle to the autonomous pod and possibly select the end destination would take some time anyways, so this transition into the tunnel system could go unnoticed. Pods could travel at higher speeds than those allowed for the human driver, since the system is autonomous and completely monitored. The scenery wouldn’t be much though, so probably not the most interesting ride, but certainly fast.

Why build a tunnel network in the first place?
Traffic congestion is a very common nuisance in american lives. With the problem just getting worse. In order to solve this problem you have to build more roads or have fewer cars on them with arranging a better public transport. The land for the roads is scarce. The alternative of going up using drones to fly people around may not become possible due to safety concerns in a long time. Where to go then? Underground.

This has not been done before for obvious reasons, it is really expensive. The most expensive roads to build are tunnels and bridges. Tunnels have even more problems the larger they get. With people driving inside of them there needs to be proper ventilation to get rid of the carbon-monoxide. Resting stops for people. Great deal of risk with so many people driving inside a closed tunnel. The subway system is one solution to many of these problems. Except subways lack the flexibility and require substantially more infrastructure.

Elon Musk’s big plan is to use the technology that his other company Tesla already has developed. Instead of trains like in a subway system, Musk plans to have autonomous pods that run on battery power to zip along the tunnels. This has several advantages. First the battery powered pods to not require power lines to be continuously run through the tunnel like the train does, this saves on the costs of the tunnel. Also since the pods will be autonomous, this saves on personnel needed to operate the system. But probably the smartest idea behind the Boring company’s plans is to build a tunnel with a smaller bore diameter. Probably large enough to fit a pod with a largest planned Tesla vehicle but certainly smaller than the current tunnels for trains.

The Boring company plans to build the tunnel network using a tunnel boring machines. These machines are massive systems build to bore tunnels with circular cross section. They consist of cutting head system, a system for removing earth, systems for advancing the cutting head, systems for laying the concrete walls around the bore. At the end these machines leave a tunnel pretty much ready to use.

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Drone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda

Partnering with the Government of Rwanda, Zipline serves 21 hospitals nation-wide. They provide instant deliveries of lifesaving blood products for 8 million Rwandans.

Their drones are tiny airplanes (instead of the more common tiny helicopter model). Supplies are delivered using parachute drops from the drone. Landings are similar to landings on aircraft carriers (they grab a line to help slow down the drone) and, in a difference from aircraft carrier landings, the drone line drops them onto a large air cushion.

Zipline Muhanga Distribution Center launched in October 2016 making Rwanda the first country to integrate drones into their airspace and to begin daily operations of autonomous delivery.

As of May 2017, Zipline had completed over 350 delivery flights to real hospitals and their pace is accelerating. Zipline can cut delivery time from 4 hours to 15 minutes (which is extremely important in time critical health care emergencies).

I wrote in 2014 about the huge potential for drone delivery of medical supplies. It is wonderful to see Zipline improving people’s lives with their effort.

Related: Inspirational Engineer, William Kamkwamba from Malawi (2008)Using Rats to Sniff Out TBUS Fish and Wildlife Service Plans to Use Drones to Drop Vaccine Treats to Save FerretsWater Wheel

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Small Farm Robots

The IdaBot was created by researchers at Northwest Nazarene University (Idaho, USA).

Using robots in farming is limited today but the future could see a huge growth in that use. Benefits of introducing more robots to farming include reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals to control weeds.

Reducing labor costs is also a potential benefit but at current market prices (due to high costs of robotics and available cheap labor) that is more something for the future than today. However that can change fairly quickly – as for example the collapse in solar panel costs have made solar energy economically very attractive. In areas with high labor costs (Japan etc.) or areas where there are active efforts to reduce the supply of labor (in the USA where a significant portion of labor does not have proper visa to work in the USA and the current administration is seeking to reduce that labor availability) robots become more attractive economically.

Robot farmers are coming to a field near you

In Japan, using robots to harvest strawberries is roughly cost-equivalent to human labor if the ‘bots are shared between multiple farms, Lux Research said.

“With strawberry-picking being slow and labor-intensive, and labor scarce and expensive — the average agricultural worker in Japan is over 70 years old – the robot is quickly likely to become the cheaper option,” it said.

Lux Research also forecast European lettuce-growing — a major industry on the continent — would become automated by 2028.

“Automated lettuce weeding is already competitive with human labor in Europe, thanks to regulatory limitations on agrochemicals. Lettuce thinning is still accomplished manually at lower cost, but robots are likely to reach breakeven with human labor in 2028,”

The global market for agricultural robots will explode to $73.9 billion by 2024, up from $3.0 billion 2015

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSustainable Ocean FarmingCool Robot Locomotion: Transforms from Wheeled to Walking For Stairs and Rough Terrain (2012)Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid ResearchMoth Controlled Robot (2009)

14 Year Old Signs $700,000 MOU for a Drone to Detect and Defuse Land Mines

Harshwardhan Zala, from Gujarat, India has signed an agreement worth Rs. 5 crore (US$733,940) to explore the possibility of commercial production of a drone created by him which can help in detecting and defusing landmines.

Harshwardhan started work on the prototype of the landmine-detecting drone last year after reading in newspapers about high army casualties due to landmines. Aerobotics7 is the company founded by the 14 years old.

Harshwardhan Zala, 14-year-old trends for Rs 5 crore deal at Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017!

Explaining more about the drone, the zealous 14-year-old said, “The drone is designed to send out waves that cover eight sq. mt area while flying two feet above the surface; the waves detect land mines and communicate their location with a base station. The drone also carries a bomb weighing 50 gram that can be used to destroy the landmine.” Harshwardhan Zala’s proud father Pradhyumansinh is an accountant with a plastic company in Naroda, and his mother Nishaba is a homemaker.

[missing video – removed 🙁 ]

The video has Harshwardhan speaking a bit of English but mainly some other language that I don’t understand. If I understand right, his drone is 98% accurate at identifying mines (where the current solutions are 92% accurate – and much more dangerous for those having to walk around testing). His solution is 17 times faster and 22 times cheaper than the current solutions. Once the mine is detected by the drone through an infrared sensor, a 50 gram detonator will complete the task of defusing it (blowing it up).

This video shows a bit of the drone itself (non-English audio)

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  • Recent Comments:

    • Alex: This is certainly the future. It is hart warming to see developing countries benefiting from such...
    • Donnie S. Willson: Underground tunnel is a good idea for traffic managment.i really appreciate it.
    • Richard Hopp: Awesome blog post, love the biodiversity. Really excited after watching this video, since I...
    • Robbie Miller: How fantastic, not only a great subject to study, but to be able to travel the world too....
    • Jaspal Singh: Japan has an edge when it comes to humanoid robots. No doubt in few more year, you will find...
    • Marcus Williams: This is actually a marvelous piece of engineering. Kudos for sharing!
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    • Jaspal Singh: I fully agree to the post idea. The farming is a natural process and should be free from any...
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