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Innovations that changed the world in 2017


2017 may have been a rough year, but there were plenty of inventions, innovations, and gadgets that made the world just a slightly better place.

From global health to social justice to humanitarian aid, a slew of scientists, technologists, and activists came together this year to create impactful solutions to some of our most pressing problems.

1. The 20-cent paper toy that can help diagnose diseases


This paper device, which only costs 20 cents to make, can help scientists and doctors diagnose diseases like malaria and HIV within minutes — no electricity required.

The Paperfuge, developed by Stanford assistant professor of bioengineering Manu Prakash, is a hand-powered centrifuge that was inspired by a whirligig toy. It can hold blood samples on a disc, and by pulling the strings back and forth, it spins the samples at extremely fast rates to separate blood from plasma, preparing them for disease testing.

It could prove revolutionary for rural areas in developing countries, and save lives in the process.

2. A Facebook translation bot for refugees


Tarjimly is a Facebook translation bot that connects refugees with volunteer translators, wherever they are in the world. Whether they need to speak with doctors, aid workers, legal representatives, or other crucial services, users can tap into the power of Facebook Messenger to get real-time, potentially life-saving, translations on the spot.

3. Smart glasses that help legally blind people see


The eSight 3 is a set of electronic glasses that can drastically improve a legally blind person's vision, helping them see and perform daily activities with ease.

The device fits over a user's eyes and glasses like a headset, using a camera to send images to tiny dual screens in front of their eyes. Two sensors adjust the focus, while a handheld remote lets the user zoom and contrast, among other functions. For a user with 20/400 vision, for example, it can improve their eyesight up to 20/25.

4. A cardboard drone for humanitarian aid


IMAGE: OTHERLAB

Otherlab, a San Francisco-based engineering research and development lab, developed what it calls the world's most advanced industrial paper airplane. The cardboard gliders are made with a biodegradable material and equipped with GPS and other electronics, allowing them to be dropped by a plane and deliver two pounds of life-saving materials without needing to be retrieved.

6. 3D-printed sex organs to help blind students learn


IMAGE: COURTESY OF BENETECH

Holistic, inclusive sex ed is hard to come by as it is. For blind students, it's even harder. That's why advocates and researchers at Benetech created 18 3D figures that show sex organs during a various states of arousal, letting students "feel" their way through sex education. Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University to create the models.

7. Facebook's digital maps that help with disaster relief


IMAGE: FACEBOOK

In June, Facebook announced a new product called "disaster maps," using Facebook data in disaster areas in order to send crucial information to aid organizations during and after crises. The information helps relief efforts get a bird's eye view of who needs help, where, and what resources are needed.

8. A solar-powered tent designed for homeless people

IMAGE: SCOTT WITTER / MASHABLE

Earlier this year, 12 teens in San Fernando, California, joined forces with the nonprofit DIY Girls to invent a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack for homeless populations. They won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to develop the tent, and presented their project at MIT in June.

9. The tool that turns your extra computer power into bail money


The eSight 3 is a set of electronic glasses that can drastically improve a legally blind person's vision, helping them see and perform daily activities with ease.

The device fits over a user's eyes and glasses like a headset, using a camera to send images to tiny dual screens in front of their eyes. Two sensors adjust the focus, while a handheld remote lets the user zoom and contrast, among other functions. For a user with 20/400 vision, for example, it can improve their eyesight up to 20/25.

10. A robot lawyer for low-income communities

The chatbot DoNotPay offers users free legal aid for a range of issues, including helping refugees apply for asylum, guiding people in reporting harassment at work, and even aiding everyday consumers who want to fight corporations who try to take advantage of them.

11. A solar-powered water delivery cart


IMAGE: WATT-R

Watt-r is a solar-powered water delivery cart that aims to improve the experience for women and children, who often are the ones in developing countries to be tasked with gathering water for their families. The cart is still in development, but it will be able to carry a dozen 20-liter containers of water at a time, and solar power will allow it to move, according to Fast Company.

12. Nike's professional sportswear hijab


Nike launched its Nike Pro Hijab worldwide this year, to further the company's idea that "if you have a body, you're an athlete." Working with professional athletes who wear hijab, the product is made of single-layer mesh that's breathable, stretchy, and easily customized for any sport.

#socialinnovation #socialenterprise #changemakers

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