Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 15 - Inventors and Innovators

Week 3 began with a lecture on some final design considerations participants needed to consider for their projects. The lecture centred around three main concepts; Design for Affordability, Design for Manufacturability; Design for Re-use and Failure. This was demonstrated with the use of the example of the $3 Drip Irrigation System developed and implemented by Paul Polak. Kurt Kornbluth, a lecturer in UC Davis, then showed the group the example of a low cost wheel chair and Amy Smith presented images of sustainable road side workshops in Guatemala.

Participants then broke into their various teams to continue the work on their projects and we hope that they can implement some of the design techniques and approaches presented this morning. This vast majority of this week will be spent within the workshops, as teams attempt to construct working prototypes for the design reviews next Friday, and of course the all important final presentations on the 6th August. The participants are obviously delighted with this situation, as all of them love getting their hands dirty in D-lab and the other workshops!

Lico and Limbor work on the stabilized soil block mechanism

This evening we were treated to an amazing lecture/demonstration by Shawn Frayne, an inventor involved in sustainable wind energy solutions. Shawn was part of Amy's very first D-lab class in MIT and is the perfect example of the potential that this class has in inspiring young innovators. He has founded two wind energy based companies, the most high profile of these being Humdinger Wind Energy, and gave us a rousing lecture on the need for inventors to come back to the fore.

Shawn Frayne speaking about his technologies

And we have light!

Amy introduced Shawn by claiming that he had "revolutionized the Wind Energy movement by unrevolutionizing it" and he went on to describe invention as "the pursuit of simplicity".He spoke candidly about the life long interest he had for invention . Before he joined D-lab he had questioned whether invention could be said to still truly exist, as he saw the vast majority of technological 'innovations' were only nuanced improvements on pre existing products, and these were only for the benefit of the richest 10% of the world's population.
A number of key technological innovations had been made 100 years ago, he argued, and the only way to replicate this rapid production of new ideas and technology was through a focus on the developing world. He highlighted that "Harder problems make for better inventions" and that you will do your best thinking when you are boxed into a corner. The constraints that are imposed naturally by work in developing countries force engineers, designers and community partners to become innovators.

He introduced the term "Confluent technology" to us, explaining that he believed that the appropriate technology movement had evolved to such an extent that a new term was needed. He told us that a focus on problems in the developing world would spark innovations that spark new industries thus reaching a point where technologies developed in emerging economies will impact industries around the world. I found this idea extremely interesting as it highlighted that working on appropriate technology in the developing world was actually in the best interests of the developed world, rather than simply having to bear the burden of providing financial aid.

He presented the participants with examples of the kind of appropriate technology out of which these innovations could emerge. He showed us some SODIS bags for water purification and transport, a technology that some participants from IDDS worked on last year, and he also demonstrated an Aeroelastic Flutter technology which can be used to harness wind energy. Even at the reception after the talk, participants were eager to see Shawn show them more examples of appropriate technology, and he duly obliged! Find out more about Shawn's work with wind energy by visiting .

Shawn Frayne and Kurt Kornbluth entertain the crowd with their demonstration of the Windbelt

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