Saturday, December 03, 2011

Design Challenge: Inventions That Matter

I am a technology nerd. I think it goes with being an unrepentant optimist. One thing I like to do is read through popular magazines about new technologies, and think about how they might change our collective future for the better.

This morning, I was looking through Time Magazine's recent list of the 50 Best Inventions (sorry, if you aren't a subscriber, you won't get much from this link). It was depressing. Only one, a malaria vaccine in late stage trials by GSK, was really targeted at the BOP and had a chance of making lives better for millions of people. A second invention, a solar charged rural information system housed in an oil drum and promoted by UNICEF had application to the BOP. But it seems to me that just providing a solar charger for mobile phones would probably be a lower cost approach.

Perhaps I live in a bubble (OK, not perhaps). But I know of many inventors working on technologies that are aimed squarely at the other 99% of the people who do not have iPads and Priae (my attempt at the plural of Prius).

Paul Polak has been working on "Design for the Other 90%" for decades. Groups like MIT's D-Lab, Catapult Design, International Development Enterprises, CSU's Engines Lab, Haddock Invention,  Design that Matters, IDEO.org and D-Rev work in the field. Communities like Appropedia collect and test concepts. Companies like d.light, Envirofit, Vestergaard Frandsen and cell phone providers are bringing new products to these markets. And accelerators like the Unreasonable Institute and Village Capital are providing services to BOP inventors to help form companies to disseminate inventions that matter.

Am I am being too sensitive in my disappointment? I know inventions are the ideas, and innovations are what actually get used in the real world, and this list was of the former. But what I would like is for my readers to list the inventions that they are excited about in the comments below.

So... what are exciting inventions could make a difference for the other 6 billion people in the world that don't care about hummingbird drones or electric mood indicating bunny ears? What are the inventions that matter?

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