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10 Technologies For You and the Planet

4 minute read
Chris Taylor

Citizens of the developing world would love to have a taste of the wealth and comfort enjoyed by Americans, Europeans or Japanese. But if poor countries raise their living standards in the same wasteful ways the rich nations have, the planet will be in big trouble. Here are 10 simple, sensible technologies that could help the poor get richer and the rich stop squandering such a large share of the world’s resources.

The Flamp

Covered in phosphorescent paint, Spanish designer Marti Guixe’s Flamp leeches light from other sources–the sun, regular bulbs, even candlelight–and keeps shining for 20 minutes after the lights go out, using no electricity. How illuminating! ( guixe.com/fanshop/flamp.html )

Smart Yarn

Right now, wearable electronics–such as this ICD+ jacket from Philips and Levis, with its built-in cell phone and MP3 player–runs on batteries. In the future, it may well run on electricity generated by the clothing itself. Textile researchers in Scotland are working on polymers with super-thin films of silicon. These act as solar cells and produce 100 watts per yard. Get ready for the era of gadgets powered by your pocket. ( design.philips.com )

The Spin-X

The humble tumble dryer is the most power-hungry appliance in the average Western home. So why not put your clothes in for a spin instead? Using centrifugal force and minimal electricity, the Spin-X will suck a quart of water out of laundry in a mere two minutes. Your big old ugly dryer takes 30 minutes to complete the same task. ( www.spin-x.com )

Inflatable Furniture

When it comes to resting your rear, there’s no point in wasting wood and foam when you can just as easily–and comfortably–park it on thin air. The a.i.r. range of inflatable seating from Ikea uses plastics without polyvinyl chloride and sports a 10-year guarantee. Don’t just sit there–get pumping. ( ikea-usa.com )

The Simputer

Developed for the world’s rural poor by Indian academics and software company Encore, based in Bangalore, this hand-held Internet device has sounds and pictograms simple enough for anyone to use. Villages can share a single Simputer, because files are stored on an individual’s personal smart card. With weather and crop prices a click away, the academics say, farmers will be more productive and waste fewer resources. ( www.simputer.org )

The Foled

This prototype paper-thin “flexible organic light-emitting diode display,” from Universal Display, unrolls from its container. It is designed to function as a wireless monitor but uses a fraction of the energy. ( universaldisplay.com/foled.php )

Power-Free Fridge

Nigerian Mohammed Bah Abba found that just putting a small clay pot inside a larger one and filling the gap with moist sand keeps fruit and vegetables fresh for three weeks. For the West, it’s food for thought. ( rolexawards.com/laureates )

Robotic Lawn Mower

Here’s how being eco-friendly can make your weekend easier. While two-stroke weed whackers are horrible for the planet (releasing a billion tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere each year ), the robomower runs on a rechargeable battery–and it does your lawn for you. Just put down a perimeter wire so it knows where to go, sit back and enjoy the silence. ( www.friendlymachines.com )

The Eco-Flush Toilet

The average American uses an astonishing 190 gallons of water a day, and most of that goes straight down the toilet. If you pick and choose your flush settings according to how much you need to wash away, you’ll save gallons of precious H2O. The Dove Eco-Flush from Sharp Concepts has high, medium and low settings on the handle–meaning you get rid of waste without wasting so much. ( https://www.sharpconcepts.co.nz/index.cfm?id=10⊂=4

Hand-Powered Cell Phones

Why waste all that battery energy on yakking away when you can create it yourself? Motorola’s Free Charge, below, is a hand-crank battery that plugs into any phone and gives you five minutes of talk time in exchange for 45 seconds of winding. The clockwork concept is also popular in flashlights and radios, right, but given the global explosion in cell phones, this is its most significant use yet. ( motorola.com )

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