Technologies don’t have to be cutting edge to make a profound difference in people’s lives. Check out these 10 incredible low-tech inventions.
1) Better woodstoves
Deforestation is a major problem in much of the developing world, as is the harm to human health that comes from breathing in the particulate matter in smoke from woodstoves. Better-designed stoves like the Berkeley-Darfur stove use only half as much fuel to cook a comparable amount of food, and they cut the particulate emissions in half as well.
2) Simple, effective water filters
Hundreds of millions of people around the world lack access to safe water. Simple, cheap water filters use ash combined with silver nanoparticles to filter out impurities and pathogens; they have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands.
3) Hippo roller
Hundreds of millions of people, usually women, have to walk every day to get enough water for their basic needs and transport it home in buckets. The Hippo roller is a heavy-duty plastic barrel that can be flipped on its side and rolled home, via an attached handle, over rough terrain.
4) Jet injections
Vaccines are crucial for public health. But in the developing world, distributing the vaccine to where it’s needed is only part of the problem. How do you administer it in a place where sterile needles might be scarce? One fix is a jet injector, a decades-old invention that can send a high-pressure, directed stream of fluid through the skin.
5) Paper microscopes
Microscopes are crucial for diagnosing infectious disease. But in some ways they’re the worst possible device—heavy, expensive, and hard to maintain. Paper microscopes, also known as foldscopes, contain all the crucial parts within one foldable sheet of paper. They can be optimized for different diseases and cost less than a dollar.
6) Disaster communications system
Cell phones are common even in poor countries, but when a natural disaster strikes, the communications networks these devices rely upon can fail. Developed in Chile, SiE is a system that encodes text into high-frequency audio tones that can be distributed over broadcast radio waves and received on any smartphone without requiring any internet infrastructure. An app on the phone listens for these tones and transforms them into a text message.
7) Portable malaria screener
Malaria kills 1,200 children a day. Quick diagnosis and treatment is crucial, but that typically requires a microscope and a reliable technician to analyze blood samples. A quicker, simpler system developed last year at the University of Southern California is portable and detects levels of hemozoin, a by-product created by the malaria parasite, which reveals how far the disease has progressed.