Friday, July 18, 2008

"Appropriate Technology" and Development

For those in the development field - pretty cool and a good fit with microfinance initiatives - fixing the world on $2/day (Popular Mechanics, h/t Instapundit):

Smith is trying to turn the cobs into charcoal. For an award-winning engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this would seem to be a humble goal. Wood charcoal has been in use for thousands of years. However, for many of the world's poor, it can be a life-saving technology. Compone's farmers are among the 800 million people worldwide who use raw biomass—agricultural waste, dung, straw—for fuel. Globally, smoke from indoor fires makes respiratory infections the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, claiming more than a million young lives a year. Charcoal burns much more cleanly. "I don't know how quickly we can change cooking habits here," Smith says, "but I'd like to see people breathing less smoke inside their homes."

A well-liked instructor at MIT and member of the Popular Mechanics editorial advisory board, Smith is a rising star in a field known as appropriate technology, which focuses on practical, usually small-scale designs to solve problems in the developing world. She has brought four undergrads to Compone, along with Jesse Austin-Breneman, an MIT graduate who works for a community organization in Peru, and one of her engineering collaborators, 53-year-old Gwyndaf Jones. To get here, the team has lugged bags of tools and low-tech gadgets, water-testing equipment and a heavy wooden crate bearing a pedal-powered grain mill more than 3500 miles in taxis, airplanes and buses.

Not sure if I posted this before, but a pretty good inspirational presentation at TED by Amy Smith here:

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