Friday, December 30, 2005

Innovation for the poor

I realized today that I should take note of other worthy ideas in addition to my existing causes.

There are some technologies out there that could be helpful to the world but which aren't getting enough attention. For example, apparently water distillation isn't that hard: a product called watercone appears to be dead simple. So simple that I immediately saw how it worked upon seeing a picture of it--but I couldn't believe it, because if it was that simple (thought I), why hasn't anyone thought of it before? (and if it has been invented before, what exactly do they have a patent on?) It's pretty expensive for poor people ("under 100 euros"--they pretend it's a good price), but surely, I would think, there is a way to manufacture these cheaply.

Certain regions of the world, of course, have permanent serious shortages of clean water, and a cheap solar-powered distillation method could do wonders for the people there.

Then there are housing technologies. One I saw today, micro dwellings, may be able to offer durable, expandable, permanent housing at low cost... although (only having glanced at the idea, mind you) it doesn't look like a very ergonomic place to live. Anyway, the site makes a good point about high housing costs:
Current house building techniques in the western world have to a large extent failed to incorporate knowledge of geometry that enables lightweight and durable constructions which can be produced at a fraction of the cost of conventional houses. The lack of innovation in this field can be ascribed to the enormous economic interests that are tied to real estate. Challenging habitual conceptions in this area is seen as a risk not worth undertaking. However, the present situation creates considerable inequalities, where people with even average incomes cant afford buying or renting a place to live in major cities and their suburbs. As a result, monoculture prevails and people with lower incomes are forced into the margins or into finding alternative solutions.
This reminded me of another building style, domes, which my Dad was recently excited about. If I remember correctly (IIRC), Large dome houses can be built for the similar prices to regular houses, but are more energy-efficient (they insulate well) and are very durable (an excellent choice for hurricane-prone regions.) Smaller-sized domes can be build by and for the people of poorer lands--with cost savings and durability over conventional housing, presumably.

Now, I'm not sure whether or not these technologies are truly breakthroughs, but I hope that more research and development will go into developing and providing these technologies to those who would benefit.

Oh, and I almost forgot the One Laptop Per Child project. Potentially--although I suppose we won't know until a few million children grow up--this could be a major boon for the people of poor nations that are nevertheless rich enough to afford the $100 laptops. I might love to get personally involved in this project.

P.S. Sorry to my readers about not following up on my previous entry...that's sorry to both of you. Final exams came up, and a big school project... plus I discovered the Ruby programming language, and some old video games. Not good enough excuses? Well, I'm also feeling ill-equipped to develop a solid strategy for implementation of a free intellectual property regime, due to my minimal education in economics. I suspect that economics is vastly more important to the world's operation than I had noticed before. Anyway, I still plan to write a follow-up soon.