Friday, February 17, 2006

Nobel Peace Prize Material

Boy, I Dean Kamen pulls this off...
San Francisco (Business 2.0) - Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don't have electricity. Those figures add up to a big problem for the world—and an equally big opportunity for entrepreneurs.

To solve the problem, he's invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.

"Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water," says Kamen. "The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don't care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns."

Providing clean water and electricity has some obvious benefits, but one of the less obvious ones is the amount of human potential it would unleash. Consider that among the desperately poor, a woman may spend up to 2/3 of her day gathering water, fuel, and food - and then preparing the food, often with something as primitive as a handheld grinder. We could open up a vast pool of labour simply by providing tap water, electricity, and even a small food processor and a toaster oven.

Obviously, there's more we'd like to do. But some pretty simple first steps could have huge multiplier effects.


adam said...

They had these machines (or ones like them) at the Massive Change exhibition. There was a section devoted to the developing world and projects that could be implemented to help in those areas. There was also mention of how a lot of those parts of the world are prime candidates for solar power generation.

The Massive Change site is here, though I can't find mention of the water devices, but there is an interview with Kamen

Brad said...

I believe that I saw Kamen demonstrate these devices on Daily Planet or some other similar show. They took some water out of a river (I forget the river) and ran it through his purification machine and he drank it. Clean, clear water from filthy river water.

Kamen is an amazing person. He's invented improved drug pumps, portable dialysis machines and the iBot.

The iBot is incredible. It's a powered wheelchair that can balance on two wheels allowing the occupant to basically "stand up". While "standing up" gyroscopes and sensors balance the occupant and compensate when balance begins to be lost. While standing up you could throw a potato sack at the occupant and it would not knock them over. It can "walk" up and down stairs without assistance. It can navigate curbs easily. It's an incredible machine to see in action. There's video of it out there.