Wired Magazine - November 8, 2007
SAN JOSE, California -- The Tech Museum of Innovation handed out its annual tech awards here Wednesday to honor innovators who use technology to benefit humanity.
This year's winning projects include a way to reduce the pollution caused by salmon farming, a wind-and-solar energy system, multilingual social networking, a prosthetic limb and low-cost medical tests.
The $50,000 won by the top contender in each of five categories is not the biggest benefit of the awards. It's hardly enough to get most enterprises off the ground, but the 25 laureates can now attract the attention of venture capitalists, government officials and other potential benefactors.
Previous winners have gone on to generate millions in wages and improve millions of lives. Since winning the award in 2002, KickStart -- which makes a durable, low-cost water pump that farmers operate with a simple stair-step mechanism -- has expanded its reach in Kenya and Tanzania, launched a program in Mali, and exported its pumps to farmers in more than 20 countries. Pump users generate more than $45 million in new profits and wages each year.
Equal Access, a 2003 winner, distributes radios across rural Nepal, so people can learn about topics like HIV/AIDS and women's empowerment. It's reached 13 million people across Afghanistan, India, Tajikistan, Laos and Cambodia.
This year's competition drew hundreds of applicants from more than 68 countries. The environment was a dominant theme, even among entrants not in the Environment category. Many of the winners focused on protecting the Earth, and several others helped local people by developing tools local people could manufacture, service or operate.
And the winners are:
*Fundacion Terram, based in Chile, won in the Environment category for developing a way to eliminate the significant waste created by salmon farming, which is done in open-water pens. "A single farm with 200,000 salmon can produce as much waste as a city with 62,000 people," said Joey Brookhart of the Seafood Choices Alliance.
Fundacion Terram trained indigenous people to plant kelp under the pens. The kelp absorb phosphorous and nitrogen. Locals can then harvest the kelp to feed the abalone at a neighboring aquaculture operation, which was previously supplied by denuding natural kelp forests.
*Mathias Craig of San Francisco's blueEnergy won in Economic Development for creating a low-cost wind-turbine and solar-energy system that can be built by local people largely from local materials. The hybrid system works during all types of weather, Craig said.
"The core of our philosophy is building the local industry of wind-turbine manufacturing so that, in the process of training builders, you're also training technicians and maintenance people," he said. Without training, the village will be left with expensive junk. The organization is working in Nicaragua with plans to move into Honduras, Ghana and Mongolia.
*Taking IT Global's Nick Yeo and Michael Furdyk set up a social network that topped the Education category. They call it a "Facebook for youth leaders." Recent topics discussed by the Toronto-based site's 165,000 members include the uprising in Burma, urban sustainability, living languages and refugees.
About a hundred volunteers translate the site into 12 languages. "Youths learn from each other even in basic ways," Yeo said. "Someone in Alaska might be talking about the weather with someone in Bangkok, and that enlarges their understanding of the world."
*Devendra Raj Mehta won the equality award for his work at Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti in India, an organization that invented a natural, inexpensive prosthetic limb called the Jaipur foot in 1968. They've continued to improve their prosthetic designs over the years: The newest limbs can be molded quickly and have modular components, so patients can get a custom-built foot in about three hours, or a leg in a day or two. Speed is critical, because many patients from remote locales can't make a return visit.
Mehta grew the project from distributing 50 limbs during its first seven years to serving 70,000 patients from 2006 to 2007. To reach really remote and poor patients, BMVSS hosts 40 to 50 mobile clinics each year. The group has held camps in 20 countries and has established permanent clinics in Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan.
*Simple, low-cost tests that rapidly diagnose disease won in the Health category for the diagnostics-development unit at England's University of Cambridge and the private-sector Diagnostics for the Real World. A visual signal quickly diagnoses diseases like chlamydia, trachoma, HIV and hepatitis B.
Diagnosing and treating these diseases has helped prevent blindness among whole villages of children, reduced infertility in women, and protected people from infected blood transfusions. Getting the results and prescribing medicine nearly instantly is key, said the university's Dr. Helen Lee, because a patient often can't return for results and treatment.
The Tech Awards are now in their seventh year. Wednesday's winners were honored at a black tie dinner.