Sharing technology that enriches the community
“Are you ready to show a morsel of interest?”
LEE, Hee-wook | Editor-in-chief, Bloter
In Africa, a person can get a cholera shot for a dollar. A mere one thousand won for us in Korea is worth the weight of life for someone in Africa. I realized this truth too late. And I had no choice; one thousand won was just so little that you couldn’t even get a coffee for it. ‘But it’s not fair to blame someone for spending five thousand won to get a coffee, is it?’ Some might say it’s a lame justification, but I couldn’t do otherwise.
But Professor Manu Prakash was different. He came up with a way to turn a mere one thousand won to be used for treating diseases in Africa. He and a group of bioengineering students at Stanford have created “Foldscope.”
Manu Prakash, a professor at Standard, is explaining “Foldscope” in his Ted talk. (Photo by TED)
Foldscope is an optical microscope that is mostly made out of an unusual material – paper. You can print out the framework of the Foldscope onto a sheet of paper and fold it origami-style to make a microscope. But don’t take it lightly because it’s made out of paper. Foldscope is lighweight, portable and so durable that even you can step on it. It’s waterproof. You can focus and pan with your hands and it is designed to provide over 2,000X magnification with submicron resolution. It can detect deadly diseases such as malaria. And it costs less than $1 to build, including a battery and an LED.
It usually costs $1,000 to $10,000 to ship a regular microscope to Africa. Foldscope is small in volume and can be shipped at a dramatically lower cost. It’s a blessing for Africa.
The research team, led by Dr. Manu Prakash, has openly released the framework of the “$1 microscope” so that anyone can use it to build their own. His team seeks to “democratize science by developing tools that are able to scale up to match problems in global health and science education.”
During the pilot, 50,000 Foldscopes were distributed to users in 135 countries. At the end of 2015, Foldscope Instruments was founded to develop and release an upgraded product. The organization aims to distribute 1 million Foldscopes worldwide by the end of 2017. They say that “In the end, we believe that every kid in the world should carry a microscope in his/her pocket…just like a pencil.” The project was funded by several organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Residents of a desa in Indonesia are setting up a base station for a cellular phone network with the support of TIER,
a research group at the University of California at Berkeley. (Photo by TIER research group, U.C. Berkley)
Technology shines through in the dark, in a desperate situation. While everyone has a need, not everyone can own technology. That is why we need to share resources more widely, rather than just owning them. Not everyone can own technology, but the benefits of it should be shared by all. That enriches the community in the end.
People in a small village, or desa, in Papua, Indonesia didn’t have a cell phone until early 2013. In such a remote mountain village, there was no base station. Telecom operators were unwilling to enter considering its low profitability. Residents had to wait in a long queue in front of the only phone service in the village to make or to receive a phone call.
In the end, the residents of the village decided to set up a “village-managed cellular network” on their own. And what made it possible was “OpenBTS,” an open source software project dedicated to revolutionizing mobile networks. With the help of a research team at UC Berkeley and Range Networks, they installed a base station into a treetop and made communications equipment. Thanks to the open source technology, 1,500 residents have been able to communicate with the world. If you can’t do it alone, work together. What Mick Ebeling is doing is “helping broken hearts.” In 2008, he developed the Eyewriter for graffiti artist TEMPT who was paralyzed due to a disease. Eyewriter is a system that enables a person to write and draw using only one’s eyes. Daniel, a Sudanese boy who lost both arms during the civil war in South Sudan, also got 3D printed prosthetic arms thanks to Mick’s help. But all of these were not done by himself alone. He collaborated with like-minded talented people around the world. He has collected stories of those in need and connected them with designers and engineers around the world who can help. That’s how this “IT Avengers” who would go anywhere where there are people in need was created – Not Impossible Labs, a collaboration-oriented organization founded on the belief that “nothing is impossible.”
The blueprints for “Floating House” was made available for free via Paperhouses. (Photo by Paperhouses)
There are more examples. Paperhouses is a platform made by a group of young architects that brings open-source architecture to the public. They believe that houses should not be owned by certain architects or companies. They make blueprints available for free to the public so that anyone can use them to build their own high-quality and practical houses. Their goal is to distribute architecture as community assets.
Ubuntu is an open source software platform. Any developer with the willingness and right technical skills can contribute to the development of Ubuntu. The success of the Ubuntu Project depends on a wide community of talented, passionate developers. Voluntary contribution by talented and passionate developers and designers around the world are the nourishment that grows Ubuntu. Why, and what for, do they want to participate?
Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:
“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him…The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
A simple bowl of water you offer enriches the community. Just a morsel of interest and support suffice. That’s how we evolve, little by little.