Socially conscious inventors are the true champions of global progress, though they are rarely recognized.
Their innovations and inventions shake up our world, tackling some of the planet's biggest problems with bold ingenuity. From tiny gadgets that can cleanse water in a flash to satellites that are mapping global poverty in an unprecedented way, innovations are constantly making strides toward solving massive social problems.
These nine innovations sought to tackle global inequality in August.
1. The clothing line meant to help curb Zika virus
Designers at Maternova, an innovation hub geared toward the needs of pregnant women, have developed a line of clothing containing insect repellent with intentions of protecting expectant moms from Zika virus. The repellant used in the clothing, the designers told TakePart, protect the wearer from more than 40 types of insects and will last up to 50 washes.
The designers also say they are hoping the clothing can provide an additional layer of protection to the existing safety precautions pregnant women take to curb the spread of the virus. The project is currently hosted on crowdfunding site Republic, and it raised more than $25,000 throughout the month of August.
2. A minuscule gadget that disinfects water in minutes
Image: Jin Xie/Stanford University
Harnessing the power of UV rays to kill bacteria, this tiny device many have the major power needed to eventually help disinfect contaminated water in developing nations. A paper in Nature Nanotechnology announced the small, inexpensive invention in early August.
Researchers told Fast Company the device — which is only half the size of a postage stamp — can disinfect a bottle of water in 20 minutes, increasing the effectiveness of UV rays in decontamination. In comparison, it usually takes one complete day for UV rays alone to kill bacteria in the same amount of water.
3. AI helping the Blind community identify objects
Aipoly, a free, downloadable app for iPhone users, helps blind and visually impaired people identify everyday objects quickly. Users simply need to point their phones at an object or color, and the app will tell them what it recognizes via text on the screen or its Speaking Voice setting.
While similar identification apps and technology exist for helping those with low or no vision to differentiate between currency, Aipoly's wide catalog of various objects (like distinguishing between brands of soda) makes this tech stand out.
The app was announced as a Clearly Vision Prize semi-finalist in August, and the winners will be named later this year.
4. Edible food packaging made with milk
In a world dominated by plastic packaging, we need sustainable alternatives to house and preserve our food. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers are developing a new biodegradable film made of a milk protein called casein to help curb plastic-related waste — and it's even edible.
The film is also an estimated 500 times better than plastic packaging at keeping food fresh, by keeping oxygen away from food more effectively.
The innovative technology gained mass attention in August, and was officially announced at the 252nd American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition late last month.
5. An easy way to monitor electricity use in your home
Image: Bryce Vickmark/MIT
Our tech-loving society uses a lot of energy, but many of us can't say for certain how much power we use in a given period of time. A single sensor invented by MIT researchers could change that, by monitoring the energy every device in your home uses.
A paper published on Aug. 1 announced the monitor — a small, $30 gadget you place on the main power line of your home with a simple zip tie. The device can sense patterns in voltage and currents through the wire, detecting whether energy is powering a light, motor or another device — and documenting when mass amounts of energy is being used.
The sensor empowers homeowners with information on their energy consumption, hopefully inspiring them to cut back to save money — and the planet.
6. A drone that safely removes bombs
Image: Mine Kafon Drone/Kickstarter
Detecting and removing landmines is dangerous and time-intensive, but the Mine Kafon Drone, which was fully funded via Kickstarter in August, is working to change this. It finds landmines and destroys them completely, without humans ever directly interacting with an area of concern.
Here's how it works: The drone surveys an area of land and detects landmines with a metal detector, simultaneously mapping the area. Once the mines have been mapped and detected, the drone's operator drops detonators on top of the landmines with an arm extending from the drone. When the detonators are in place and the area is clear, the operator can blow up the mines from a safe distance using a timer.
The drone is in prototype phase, but inventor Massoud Hassani hopes to start production on the product in the next six months.
7. The diaphragm that detects labor before contractions
Image: Smart Diaphragm/UCSF
A newly developed diaphragm — dubbed the Smart Diaphragm — senses changes in the cervix, detecting when a woman is about to go into labor before contractions even start.
Contractions are currently the main indicator for medical professionals to know a woman is about to give birth. But in the case of early labors, this is much too late to do anything to significantly prolong a pregnancy or address an underlying health concern, leading to more premature babies and more chance of health risks for the mother.
Using the Bluetooth-powered Smart Diaphragm, doctors (and expectant mothers) can know if a woman is going to give birth up to two weeks before she actually does.
Detecting when a woman is going to give birth could be life-changing — and life-saving — for women and newborns, especially those living in remote rural areas who usually lack access to last-minute emergency medical care. Though iterations of the inexpensive innovation have been around for years, test trials began in Kenya and South Africa in August.
8. Poverty detection via AI and satellite
Poverty is a systemic global issue, but mapping it to adequately address needs and observe trends is not easy work. A new way of mapping poverty via satellite and AI, however, could help revolutionize how relief workers distribute aid to different parts of the world, saving the time and money it takes to conduct on-the-ground surveys of poor regions.
In mid-August, a study published in the journal Science detailed how machine learning and satellite imagery are planning to map poverty in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Malawi. While researchers admit the tech won't be replacing on-the-ground surveys anytime soon, they believe the method could — even initially — dramatically improve the results of aid work data and support tangible relief efforts.
9. A bot that helps low-income people fight eviction
Image: JOSHUA BROWDER/DoNotPAy
Lawyers are notoriously expensive. Robot lawyers, however, are free. And, in some cases, these bots acting as stellar legal aids, helping low-income individuals keep their homes by advising them on eviction threats.
Stanford undergrad Joshua Browder first invented the bot, called DoNotPay, to fight parking tickets for any user with a computer and a fine. But Browder released a new bot in August — in partnership with Centrepoint, one of the UK's largest youth homelessness charities — to help those unable to afford legal aid fight evictions.
A user has a simple instant message-like conversation with the bot, and the virtual lawyer then decides how to best help them based on their answers to questions. The bot then usually crafts a claims letter, filling in the information provided — and potentially saving hundreds of dollars in legal fees.