2015 might have seemed like a year full of devastation and despair, but hopefully these 13 inventions that changed the world will change your mind…
Faeces to (drinking) water converter
According to Unicef, roughly 2.4 billion people (32% of the world’s population) still don’t have access to a clean water supply. Enter: The Gates Foundation and Peter Janicki, the CEO of Janicki Bioenergy. The machine Janicki developed converts sewage into clean drinking water, pathogen-free ash and electricity, in just a few minutes. This could be a huge game-changer.
Super-quick wound sealer
A syringe full of tiny sponges sounds a bit daft, right? But what if you have uncontrollable bleeding that needs instant sealing, such as on a battlefield? Gauze doesn’t always cut it, and can take up to 20 minutes to absorb blood, plus you still need to apply manual pressure. The XSTAT 30 injects tiny compressed sponges into the wound itself; the sponges then expand 15 times their size upon contact with blood and apply pressure to the wound – all in just one minute!
Seawater to drinking water rotors
General Electric have been at it again with steam turbine technology for desalinating water, but this time, it’s on a smaller scale. Researchers are using the same turbomachinery, which is 3D printed on a smaller scale, in order to compress and stream a combination of air, water and salt through a hyper cooling loop which freezes seawater. Through freezing, the salt separates naturally as a solid, leaving just ice. Once melted, you have clean drinking water. This is a low-cost and low-energy operation, and GE are continuing to test its feasibility as a clean water technology source.
Dinnerware for dementia sufferers
As dementia is associated with sensory and cognitive challenges, eating is often an uphill battle. Many sufferers will eat less than they should, due to the frustration that food spills, confusion caused by decorative dinnerware, and many more can cause. Designer, Sha Yao identified these issues and has since created Eatwell – a simple 8-piece dinner set with over 20 distinct features that aid dementia sufferers, and help to give them more independence with food.
According to Peru’s most recent National Household Survey, roughly 42% of the rural areas of the Peruvian jungle don’t have access to electricity. Here’s where Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) come in. The university is renowned for its innovative technology developments in reaction to world issues, and the Plantalámparas are no exception. Think: lamps that run on plant power and can light the small village of Nuevo Saposoa. But how? Well, during photosynthesis, the waste from the plant decomposes in the soil, which produces electrons during the process of oxidation. These electrons are captured by the UTEC team through electrodes in the soil and transferring to batteries.
The ‘internet’ on a microchip
The Californians of the WiderNet Project have developed the eGranary Pocket Library – essentially a microchip containing offline information and resources for educational purposes. For the billions of people without internet access, this chip could provide valuable learning resources by channelling the power of smartphones, laptops and tablets. Each ‘library on a chip’ will contain a few thousand documents, customised towards the institution in need (i.e. a medical school in the developing world).
Oil-spill absorption material
Researchers in Australia and American Universities (Deakin, Drexel and Missouri) have developed a type of ‘nanosheet’ that acts as a sponge to clean up oil spills. Each nanosheet is compiled by porous flakes that are just a few nanometres thick (1 billionth of a meter) and can grow to the size of over five tennis courts. Essentially, the pores in each nanosheet can absorb oil and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight.
Water recycling laundry device
Current water and detergent costs for individuals, for hotels and for the environment are highly inefficient. For instance, a washing machine uses 20 gallons of water to clean off one tablespoon of dirt. In response to this problem, students from MIT have invented AquaFresco; a closed loop system with an inbuilt filter, allowing washing machines to re-use 95% of the water used for each laundry cycle.
Iodine bindi for impoverished Indian women
Millions of women living in rural India suffer from complications during pregnancy and breast-related diseases, including cancer, many of which could be due to an iodine deficiency. The traditional adornment of a bindi, often for religious or marital reasons, is widespread across Indian culture. This is where the Life Saving Dot comes in. Acting as an essential iodine patch, as well as a nod towards tradition, these ‘dots’ cost just 10 rupees (£0.10) for a pack of 30, and each patch provides the recommended 150-220mg of the nutrient, which is absorbed through the skin.
The eco-friendly brick
Currently in India, brick kilns in their multitudes produce almost 200 billion bricks each year. Yet the process they use heavily contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Furthermore, paper mills dispose of boiler ash in landfills, affecting both environmental and human health. As a remedy to both issues, MIT students have been developing a new type of brick, namely the Eco BLAC brick, which is made from boiler ash through a low-energy alkali activation process (and not a kiln). This new process recycles the currently useless industrial waste and creates new construction material, in an eco-friendly manner.
The simple and reusable female sanitation kit
To help reduce the considerable stigma around menstruation in developing countries, designer Mariko Higaki Iwai and a group of students have created Flo: a simple and discreet toolkit for washing and drying reusable sanitary pads. This product aims to also reduce infection, and give young girls confidence to carry on with their lives during their period.
Flat-pack housing for refugees
With an expected lifespan of roughly three years, the Better Shelter is a flat-pack shelter designed for use by refugees. They’re easy to transport and assemble without tools, plus a solar panel and lamp for family usage in mind. The project have since teamed up with the UNHCR and the Ikea Foundation, in order to begin distribution to where the aid is needed most.
The prosthetic hand – with touch sensations!
Before recently, prosthetics didn’t have the capability of providing a touch sensation for its wearer. Now, things have changed. DARPA’s new version of its prosthetic hand can channel the sensation of touch through neurotechnology, connected directly to the brain, with electrodes on the motor and sensory cortex.