A Surgical Light For The Developing World
How do you perform surgery if you can’t see your patient? Sub-par surgical lighting is a major problem for hospitals in the developing world, and Sydney University of Technology’s Michael O’Brien took on the challenge of designing a better, cheaper light this year. O’Brien’s version is made from a single, lightweight piece of sheet metal. The flat plane is perforated, allowing it to be shipped and assembled by hand on-site, and is powered by a set of LED lights and a rechargeable 12-volt battery. Tim Maly notes that O’Brien’s design pays much heed to the logistics of transporting and assembling the light, writing that “after all, lighting in a hospital situation is already a solved problem. The real problem is getting lights to all the hospitals.”

A Simple Solar Oven Makes Salt Water Drinkable
Designer Gabriele Diamanti designed this simple terracotta oven to solve a problem that’s plagued humans for ages. Users pour salt water into the basin in the morning. Then, as the temperature rises over the course of the day, steam moves downwards and is condensed into fresh, drinkable water. A clay carrying tray--designed to be toted on the head--transports the water back to camp. “The idea is that instructions for the project can be delivered to craftsmen,” said Diamanti, who won a Core77 Design Award for the project.

Why Shrink-Wrapping A Cucumber Is Actually Good For The Environment
One of the many symptoms of “greenwashing” is that we believe packaging that looks sustainable must be better than the old-fashioned version. But as this book points out, shrink wrapping (and other “wasteful” packaging techniques) are often more sustainable than, say, pulp paper boxes. How? Authors Laurel Miller and Stephen Aldridge argue that consumers often waste food simply because they forget about it, or because it goes bad too quickly. Shrink wrapping slows the decomposition of produce like cucumbers and reminds us that it’s there, waiting for us, in the back of the fridge. “The book is full of other interesting insights,” noted Mark Wilson. “Most of us assume glass is environmentally superior to plastic, but its footprint is generally far worse than recyclable plastics.”

Shaped By Algorithms, A Solar-Powered Pavilion That Soaks Up Maximum Rays
A group of architects led by Rodrigo Rubio at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia designed this striking plywood structure as part of Solar House 2.0. Built on Barcelona’s sunny waterfront, the pavilion is based on an algorithm that calculates the optimal roof profile for soaking up every available ray of sun, thanks to dozens of strategically placed PVC panels. Typically operating at 150% efficiency, the building powers itself even in the heat of summer, plus another building nearby. As Kyle VanHemert noted, the pavilion is well-suited to “the dramatic increase in the use of air conditioners in some of the world’s most rapidly developing countries.”

Stanford Students Invent A Respirator Mask To Save Babies
Respiratory illness in young children is a major hazard in developing countries, and the therapy equipment used to treat it tends to be inefficient, compromising the effectiveness of treatment. A Stanford student named Alejandro Palandjoglou traveled to a rural Bangladeshi hospital to study the problem, and came up with a product called AdaptAir. The simple device lets doctors and nurses fit oxygen masks to smaller faces. It’s a simple solution to a massive problem, and will eventually be used to fight pneumonia, the leading cause of death in children under five worldwide.

How A Foot-Powered Washing Machine Could Change Millions Of Lives
Two design students named Alex Cabunoc and Ji A You “co-created” this foot-powered washer alongside inhabitants of a slum outside of Lima. Residents in Cerro Verde spend as much as six hours a day hand-washing clothes, a belabored process that often results in back injuries, water shortages, and mold growth from inadequate drying. GiraDora is a washer and dryer in one, powered by a foot pedal as users sit atop the spinning plastic drum. It’s won a boatload of awards this year--and after receiving a grant of nearly $20,000, they’re carrying out even more testing to finalize the product.

A Survival Kit For 30 People That Turns Into A Stove
Hikaru Imamura, a Japanese design student in the Netherlands, created the Heat Rescue Disaster Recovery after hearing about his mother’s experiences as a volunteer after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Heat Rescue Disaster Recovery set is designed to give displaced disaster survivors access to the basics: heat from a fire in the steel drum, food in the form of rice and bottled water, towels, and work gloves. Each drum contains enough food and water to keep 30 people going for two days--long enough, one hopes, for help to arrive. It’s a study in simplicity and economy, and Imamura is currently exploring options for producing the kits on a broad scale.

Olafur Eliasson’s LED Light For The Developing World
We know Olafur Eliasson as the visionary behind some of the most interesting perceptual art of this decade. But with LittleSun, the Danish-Icelandic artist is venturing into new territory. The small, solar-powered lamp is meant to replace kerosene-burning lanterns, which are more expensive, dimmer, and more dangerous. Designed for communities with little to no access to electricity, LittleSun’s brilliance is in its simplicity--it can be worn, mounted to a bike, used as a desklamp, or any number of other setups. According to Belinda Lanks, Eliasson is planning a solar-powered radio and phone charger next.

3-D Printed “Magic Arms” Let A Toddler Hug And Play
Born with a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis that immobilizes her arms, two-year-old Emma Lavelle was too tiny for the heavy robotic arms that help other sufferers of the condition. But her doctors at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children had another suggestion: Why not 3-D print a smaller, lighter version of the robotic exoskeleton, perfectly fit to Emma’s frame? The result was one very happy toddler, who was able to hug her mom, draw, and play house for the first time. Now, the Nemours team has printed dozens of smaller exoskeletons for other kids with the condition. “Without the 3-D printer, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in with these younger kids,” say her doctors.

A Stove That Turns Wood Into Electricity
BioLite, the makers of a stove that turns biomass (from wood to paper) into electricity, were one of the winners of our Innovation By Design Awards this year. The heat from the fire is converted into electric energy. A USB port means you can even charge your phone with the device. But BioLite also has a mission behind it: The sale of each model helps to fund the manufacturing of a less expensive model being distributed in developing countries worldwide.


10 Of The Year's Best Designs For Social Good

Cynics be damned! From an oven that turns seawater into drinking water, to a pair of 3-D printed arms that let a toddler hug her mom for the first time, these products made a positive contribution to thousands of lives this year.

The term "do-gooder" has been a pejorative since the 1650s, when a British doctor coined it to refer to misguided idealists. Yet it’s tough to be blasé about do-gooders in 2012, a year in which we saw social innovation blossoming across creative fields.

For example, even the most world-weary will find it difficult to deny the brilliance of GiraDora, a foot-powered washing and drying machine co-created by a group of designers and citizens in a slum near Lima. Or the design student who created a disaster-preparedness kit inspired by his mother’s work as a volunteer after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A common misconception is that social innovation deals only with design for developing countries. Yet many of these objects are relevant across the board. For example, after Hurricane Sandy left Manhattan in the dark, the makers of the biomass-to-electricity stove BioLite set up tables on street corners in the Lower East Side, offering free USB phone charging to stranded residents.

Here or abroad, each of these 10 objects defies cynicism. Enjoy.

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