Kids Grow Like Weeds … So Why Don’t Their Shoes?

Did you know that approximately two billion people worldwide suffer from soil-transmitted diseases and parasites? Most live in impoverished communities without adequate sanitation, and the fact that many walk around shoeless doesn’t help matters much. To date, we’ve seen the birth of programs like TOMS Shoes’ buy-one-give-one, which is a very worthy model. But even with charitable shoe drops, the challenge of the shoeless is compounded when it comes to children: they outgrow their shoes almost as fast as they are dropped off.

But as luck would have it a very smart man stepped up with a very clever solution.

Kenton Lee was living and working in Kenya in 2007, so the story goes, when he noticed something unsettling: a little girl wearing shoes that were far too small for her feet. That led him to the question, wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand?

And so he teamed up with a shoe development company called Proof of Concept to create The Shoe That Grows – a shoe that grows up to five sizes and lasts up to five years. The product name couldn’t be simpler and his design is elegantly simple as well.

There’s no unnecessary fluff to these shoes: made of durable materials, they can withstand elements and grow with their young owners. In an interview with Bored Panda, Lee states, “We did not cut any corners with the materials that we used. The sole is compressed rubber – very similar to a tire rubber. The rest of the shoe is a high quality leather. Just quality, solid, long-lasting materials.” (more…)

One of the Smartest Ways to Use a Smartphone Yet

While it may be an inconvenience to make an appointment and get over to the doctor’s office, consider the millions around the developing world who would love to have that kind of disruption to their day. That’s especially true when there’s a deadly disease spreading around your community as we saw with such tragic consequences in West Africa and the Ebola outbreak. Sending doctors took too long.

But what if we didn’t have to send in the doctors, at least initially? What would it look like if we could get vital information to them faster than a speeding airplane?

That “what if” just might be changing soon.

Florida Atlantic University researchers have come up with a little innovation that could make a big difference worldwide. They have created a biosensing film made out of cellulose paper and a flexible polymer that can detect certain viruses and bacteria in blood and saliva. If you are worried about a dangerous virus – let’s take HIV as an example, as it’s a real issue in developing countries that needs to be addressed – you simply apply a drop of blood or saliva to the biosensing film created to detect the specific virus. If the HIV virus is present in your sample, the sensor will dye the cells blue. (more…)

When Plastic Pays

Imagine if that plastic water bottle you just tossed had true value. And I don’t mean value in terms of you took the effort to recycle the vessel (although if you did, thanks … it’s an important action). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if what was in your hand wasn’t refuse but actually as valuable as money in your pocket? Enter a terrific organization called the Plastic Bank, because that is exactly what they are trying to do.

Plastic Bank is transforming plastic waste into currency. Hitting up the poorer countries on our planet, these folks are turning plastic waste into something too valuable to toss. Founder David Katz says, “If we can reveal the value in plastic, we can make it too valuable to throw away. If we can reveal value in people, we can unleash the potential of the world’s most disadvantaged and give them a platform to improve their lives.”

Those are some powerful words. Powerfully good words.

Once the program is up and running, plastics will be able to be exchanged for essentials like food, shoes and other goods and services. Alternatively, the plastic waste could be broken down and 3D printed into other necessities. When Plastic Bank collects the plastics, they break them down and turn them into pellets that can then be processed in 3D printing machines and pumped out as new products. The pellets are either given back to the folks bringing the plastic to the “Bank” or sold to manufacturers.

In the video below the founder also says their goal is to “empower the world’s poor to become 3D printing entrepreneurs so that they can collect the raw material for the items that they can print and either use the items or sell. It allows the consumer to expect that corporations use a plastic that’s been ethically sourced and improved the lives of others while keeping already produced plastics out of the oceans.” (more…)

Designing Away Two Kinds of Waste and Uncovering One Big Value

There’s nothing quite like converting what is considered to be waste into something useful. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s wasted space or waste as in refuse: if it can be repurposed you’ve got my attention. So here’s a design that converts two challenges into one incredible solution and has to do with a slimy thing called algae. Perhaps you’ll recall my post about this super plant when I came across a building in Hamburg, Germany that is covered from top to bottom with this living, moving green stuff. The purpose of this building is to simultaneously insulate and shade the apartment building, thereby cutting down on costs and energy consumption. Cool idea, but check this one out.

A co-operative of architects, creatives and designers called The Cloud Collective turned a highway bypass in Geneva, Switzerland into an algae farm. Besides the tubes and equipment that keeps them together, the only elements that power the growth in this farm is CO2 and sunlight, which happen to be precisely what algae need to thrive. Yes carbon dioxide: the greenhouse villain now gets to play hero.

3038134-slide-s-5-an-algae-farm-designed-to-suck-up-highway-pollutionThe Cloud Collective has come up with a design where the CO2 emitted from all the cars that zip under the overpass is sucked up into the tubes where the sun then beats down on it. In other words, a perfect place to grow algae. Once harvested, the algae can be used to make cosmetics, food supplements or biofuel. And speaking of biofuel, algae is not only much more efficient than other plants, but the fact that this occurs outside of farm land means that this approach takes care to not put stress on the food supply. (more…)

The Sleek Side of Water Conservation

How would you like to have a faucet in your home that swirls water into stunning crystalline spirals? It might sound superfluous, but a faucet called Swirl has some serious good embedded into its beautiful design.

Designer Simin Qiu, a student at London’s Royal College of Art, created a faucet so striking it has won design awards and has the web all aflutter with its beauty. Swirl is a sleek water faucet that dispenses water in the beautiful pattern you see below. Those with a deep appreciation for art know the importance of negative space — the white space that exists being object and form. But take a closer look and you’ll see that Swirl has taken that design principle and applied it to a surprising new art: the art of water conservation.

Swirl was designed to use 15 percent less water than the average water faucet with the same pressure in a 60-second period. If you want to conserve even more water, there’s an aerator that mixes air with the water flow and saves up to 30 percent of water used. You can choose between three swirly water patterns, each of which dispense 0.4 seconds faster than a traditional faucet. The slight increase in speed positions the user to keep the faucet on for a shorter amount of time. (more…)

Coffee To Go That Gets Trees To Grow

Grabbing a cup of Coffee on the go is a pretty common occurrence for me. And while I’m pretty happy about the convenience of that brew I’m putting in me, too often I forget to bring my own travel mug, which isn’t such a great thing for the environment around me. You might have heard recent rumblings about K-Cups and the amount of trash they produce. K-Cups are the mini cups you put into a Keurig machine, press a button and instantly get a hot (and pretty good, I will admit) cup of coffee. The downside of those cups is that you just throw them away afterwards. This article says the trash from K-Cups sold in 2013 could make a trip around the equator 10 and a half times.

The same could be said for the to-go coffee cups we all get from our local coffee haunts. What do we do with the cups once we’re done? We toss them or we recycle them. The latter is great of course, but the fibers of the cups are only able to be recycled about three to four times, so eventually they do end up in the landfills.

Convenience found in the form of K-Cups or to-go cups are a really nice thing in our busy days, but they come at a cost that makes me question the value proposition.


Putting the “Growing” into Growing Older

Aging can be a scary thing. Many folks fear the uncertainties of health, financial freedom and familial support during their golden years. Boomers will soon be retiring in droves, and many will be entering a common design, and not a terribly good one at that: what we very un-empathetically call old folks’ homes. Sounds lovely, right?

Not so fast. International architectural and design consultancy, Spark Architects, has drawn up plans to create a retirement home I wouldn’t mind hanging out in during my sprightly years. The Homefarm was designed to combat a couple of issues Singapore will soon be facing: its aging population (Asia’s population over 65 is projected to grow 314% by 2050) and food insecurity (Singapore imports over 90% of its food, according to this article).

The Homefarm is the stunning multi-level architectural design you see in the photograph below and it’s loaded with amenities, including a food court, a library, a health center, a produce market and an agriculture center. There are three different types of farms on the campus that provide the obvious – food – but two less obvious and equally as important opportunities: jobs and a place for community gathering. (more…)

Worldwide Collaboration; World-Sized Innovation

File this under: Be careful what you say. Someone just might be listening.

In 2009 a passionate astronomer named Jill Tarter hit the TED stage to deliver what turned out to be a captivating talk on the search for signs of extraterrestrials. She shared a bold wish with her audience: that people would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the search for cosmic company. Fatefully, among Jill’s audience was a serial entrepreneur and inventor – 90 patents to his name – named Tom Bales. He left the TED Talk so inspired that he started to work on an idea that is now called the Energetic Ray Global Observatory, or ERGO.

ERGO is the world’s largest telescope, and in fact it spans the entire globe. Little sensors, which are coined pixels, are being placed with students all across the planet to collect data from cosmic rays. Each sensor acts like a pixel in a camera – individual pixels pick up pieces of light from an image, thereby essentially making a camera that is the size of the world.


ERGO Pixel

Cosmic rays, by the way, are high-energy particles that travel to Earth from outer space, aka potential alien territory. Here’s how ERGO works: when a cosmic ray hits the students’ pixels, a detector gathers the time and location of the ray and then sends it to a central online server. This data is used to analyze patterns of cosmic ray activity in real time.  (more…)

Retro Refuse in an 8-Bit Can

Some of you are old enough to remember when the original Tetris, the extremely satisfying tile stacking game, was released in the mid-eighties. And those of you who weren’t around for the first version might have run into it in a “retro-release” form. Well it’s back again and in a surprising and satisfying new medium. Just make sure you’re not looking for it on your game console.

TetraBIN is an augmented reality trash can that rewards folks for throwing stuff away instead of littering. Sensors in the bin ignite LED lights to create an interactive Tetris-like experience on the exterior of the trashcan. The block’s patterns are discerned by the shape and size of the trash you deposit in combination with your timing – a heavy-hitting move that gamifies the simple and mindless, but important, act of throwing trash away. If you watch the video below you’ll get to see the trashcan in action.

Interested in exploring how technology can be used to motivate behavior changes, folks from the University of Sydney’s Design Lab collaborated on this project with the hopes of improving urban livability. Alumni Steven Bai and Sam Johnson worked with the Design Lab’s Director of the computing program, Martin Tomitsch, to find a way to make cities more welcoming, and one important way to do that is to keep them clean. And that is something that citizens benefit by taking an active role in, whether they acknowledge it or not. (more…)

Coffee As Fuel for More than Just Humans

Yes the Brits love their tea, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like a mean cup of joe as well. Londoners are avid coffee drinkers and that means that, like the rest of us that imbibe in our morning “go juice,” they produce a fair amount of coffee waste: some 200,000 tons of waste coffee grounds annually. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

It seemed like a lot of waste to a man named Arthur Kay, too. While drawing up a blueprint for a coffee roaster, Kay decided there might be some potential in turning the roaster’s waste into energy, so says this Forbes piece.

So he created Bio-bean, a green energy company that collects coffee waste around London and recycles it into biofuel – more specifically, biomass pellets and biodiesel. These biofuel products are then sold to London-based businesses to help power buildings and transport products. Bio-bean itself uses its own fuels while trucking around town collecting coffee waste.

Bio-bean’s coffee-waste-turned-fuels are inexpensive, clean and 100% carbon-neutral (they have a net zero carbon footprint), not to mention locally-produced. The business is fairly young still, but it already processes around 30,000 of London’s 200,000 tons of waste coffee grounds annually. The Forbes piece puts that into layman’s terms: Bio-bean saves just over 53,000 barrels of oil each year, which is equivalent to driving a London bus around the world more than 7,000 times. (more…)