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April 8, 2011

the MIT Global Challenge

Amos Winter is a Tufts grad (2003) who has invented the Leveraged Freedom Chair, a cheap, rugged, three-wheeled chair that people can use to get around the dense cities and countryside of the developing world. He will be speaking (with a bunch of others, including me) at the Tisch College 10-year anniversary celebration tomorrow.

Winter studied at MIT, which is the host of the MIT Global Challenge. Student teams develop solutions to profound human and environmental problems and compete for prizes in an open online vote. Near the top of the competition right now are the Indian Mobile Initiative, which will engage Indian engineering students in developing socially useful applications for cell phones; the InnoBox Science and Engineering Kit, which is a cheap and portable kit for doing science experiments, meant for classrooms in South Africa; and BodyNotes, a tool that allows an amputee (in the US, Sierra Leone, or anywhere else) to communicate with a distant expert about fixable problems--like soreness and infection--by emailing photos.

The most obvious benefits of projects like these are the tools themselves, devices and projects that markets would not generate because the end-users are too poor. There may be benefits for the designers as well: technical skills, understanding of the world, and moral growth. Finally, many of the projects build strong and reciprocal partnerships among very different groups of people. For example, the Indian Mobile Initiative doesn't propose any particular applications, but rather a process by which Indian students will collaborate to develop software. These dialogues and exchanges take more-than-technical skills to create and should produce more-than-technical benefits.

April 8, 2011 8:05 AM | category: none



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