Sustenance Out of Thin Air

Just over a year ago I blogged about a Peruvian billboard I saw in a BBC article. The billboard functioned as a water filter, pulling water from the humidity in the air, cleaning it and dispensing drinking water free of charge to the people living there. Needless to say, I was more than a little impressed.

So you might imagine that I was even more impressed when I read a recent article on Smithsonian.com that introduced a tower with a similar function as the billboard. But this time it’s in Ethiopia, where, according to the article, a six-hour journey is often required just to get some drinkable water. In other words: similar idea but many more design constraints. (more…)

Getting Fit by Doing Good

After a nice walk around a lake or a bike ride on the Midtown Greenway (if you’re not from Minneapolis you’ve got to see what I’m talking about) you typically feel great. Exercise is beneficial for as many reasons as we have fingers and toes, but I just heard of yet another reason to add to that ever-expanding list.

There’s a gym concept in England that literally uses the energy expended while exercising to do good. How is that? Instead of lifting weights or rowing 40 pounds on a machine, GoodGym has you lift real things – like dirt or cement – while working toward a community project.

GoodGym’s founder is Ivo Gormley, a man who used to run to visit an elderly man with declining health. He found these runs and visits rewarding and so he started to recruit pals to join him. When something good hits the ears and touches the hearts of others there’s often a chain reaction, which is exactly how GoodGym came into fruition. (more…)

The Cop/Robot Swap: Your Friendly Corner Cop Depends on the Corner

I find it fascinating to see how our tolerance for technology is situational. Have you ever driven trough an intersection a hair too late and received a ticket in the mail a week later with a lovely snapshot of your misdeed? If you have and you complained about it, you were not alone. In many places here in the U.S. the complaints have been so loud that municipalities have dismantled the traffic cop cameras. But across the planet in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, automated traffic controllers like this are becoming the norm. And they’re not the discrete “hide the tech” versions that we have. It’s like a sci-fi movie set right there in the middle of the street.

Kinshasa has adopted a new way to keep traffic under wraps, which is huge robots adorning street corners acting as traffic signals. This may sound a little creepy and a dash futuristic, but it’s something the citizens of Kinshasa are really, truly embracing. (more…)

Lending Your Voice To Those Who Don’t Have One

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a pair of shoes designed to help the visually impaired navigate. The reason I am fond of that design isn’t just because of its incredible purpose, but because it brings some parity to the visually impaired with the kind of discreetness that engineers much of the stigma away. In a way, this discreteness allows the blind more social functionality.

It is for that very reason that I found myself interested in a new endeavor for those who are losing or have lost their ability to speak. A company called VocaliD has created a technology that gives a voice to those who don’t have one. And it’s not just any voice – it’s a voice as closely related to the recipient’s former voice as possible. Currently, individuals in this situation are saddled with a voice that sounds robotic and non-human. And like a blind person with a cane, this is a marker that too many will use to segregate them apart. (more…)

Planting Seeds In Prison So Inmates Can Grow Outside of It

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has made a name for itself recently, and it’s not because of its big annual flower show at the Philadelphia Convention Center that happened last week. It’s because of something a little less glamorous but perhaps more nutritious: its involvement with the local prison.

One of the many notable things this 187 year old nonprofit is involved with is called Roots to Re-Entry – a program involving inmates in the Philadelphia Prison.

When selected inmates serve their time, they embark on a 14-week training that teaches them everything they need to know about food production, horticulture and landscape management. The selection is among inmates who are pre-approved for parole or work release, and who have expressed interest in the program. (more…)

Shoes That Aren’t Just Easy on the Eyes — They Can Replace Them.

Wearable technology has become all the rage within the past number of years. There are bracelets that count your steps and watches that tell you when someone’s calling your cell phone. And it seems like eons ago when I first ran (literally) into this phenomenon with Nike’s linkage from running shoe to smart phone. But it seems that our feet haven’t received much attention as of late. That is, until now.

Enter Lechal, an India-based company that’s bringing techie feet to the forefront. Created by two friends, Lechal (which means “let’s go” or “take me there” in Hindi) is producing technology-laden insoles and shoes that are designed to navigate. While these shoes can be worn by anybody, they were designed with the visually impaired in mind.

When I think of tools designed to help the visually impaired I come up with canes, audible count down stoplights and guide dogs. That’s not a whole lot considering how many visually challenged people there are. (A quick Google search tells me that in 2011 there were reportedly 75,000 people with visual disabilities just in my home state of Minnesota alone).  (more…)

Ordinary vs. Extraordinary: What Makes You Happiest Might Surprise You

Do any of you subscribe to Mental Floss’s Watercooler Ammo newsletter? If you do – awesome! If not, and if you’re a curious lifelong learner, I think you should subscribe. It’s a daily digest of the kind of information Mental Floss is famous for: all things interesting.

A couple weeks ago I got a little nugget of interestingness in my inbox titled It’s the Little Things (Late) in Life. So compelling were the concepts in the email that I want to share them here.

We’re all familiar with the old adage it’s the little things. It’s the love letter from your kid or the guy who lets you merge in front of him with a friendly wave. Those little things are sometimes (but not always) the best of things. The Mental Floss newsletter took this concept one step further by prompting readers to think about what sort of experiences make them happy. Are they extraordinary things like a three-week trip to South America or are they ordinary things like flipping through a magazine? (more…)

Putting A Band-Aid on a Severed Limb

It’s not a secret that the smog in Beijing is bad. So bad, in fact, that last year the New York Times published an article titled On Scale of 0 to 500, Beijing’s Air Quality Tops ‘Crazy Bad’ at 755.

“Crazy Bad” simply isn’t sustainable – the air is actually killing people. So an architecture and design firm called Orproject has decided to do something about the need to breathe in China’s capital city: they’ve created a massive, transparent bubble that will give people the feel of being outside without having to consume the awful air. The bubble is to be made out of the same material that was used in the Beijing Olympics aquatic stadium. Its bumpy-looking structure (which you can check out in this Fast Co. article) gives the space the capability of having several different climates in one big biosphere. It lets in the sun, provides an outdoorsy atmosphere and keeps the bad air out. (more…)

The London Tube Producing London’s Food

I love keeping up with what entrepreneurs around the world are doing to make their communities a better place. Hearing about others’ projects and accomplishments not only makes me excited to live in this innovative day and age, but it inspires me to be a better entrepreneur myself. There’s nothing that moves the “get up and go” lever like seeing the audacity in others.

There are two folks that are working toward something exceptionally cool and forward-thinking right now: repurposing the old in order to meet the needs of now.

The space below the Northern Line of the London Underground transportation system has been vacant since World War II. That’s because it was built as an air raid shelter to protect civilians as the bombs rained down during that horrific conflict. Looking to do something with that space – something called an Adaptive Reuse Project – entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring have proposed a subterranean farm. (more…)

Want A Healthy And Happy Community? Plant it.

There’s nothing quite like plants in bloom, or when the leaves on trees change to reds, oranges and yellows. I feel a heightened sense of happiness when walking through a botanical garden, spend some time by a lake or, if I want to really set my spirits soaring, take a hike on a forested mountain. The natural world truly works some magic. Except it’s not magic and I’m hardly alone when positivity cascades over me while being immersed in nature. It seems that there’s scientific backing to the planted feeling you get when you’re next to plants.

A study from the University of Exeter in the UK explores the relationship between natural environments and wellbeing and the findings are quite astonishing. When people move to a greener area they experience an immediate improvement in their mental health, which includes decreased depression and anxiety as well as higher levels of contentment. And if that wasn’t cool enough, the improvement is sustained — lasting for years on out.  (more…)