I've just returned from one of my favorite conferences, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators (NCIIA) conference in San Francisco, and I have to say that inventing to solve real world problems is alive and well. Bravo to all the teams represented from universities around the U.S. who found ways to solve compelling problems both here and in emerging economies.
I've talked about NCIIA before. It's a non-profit supported by the Lemelson Foundation (founded by prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson) whose goal is to recognize and support inventors and invention-based enterprises to improve lives in the U.S. and in developing countries. NCIIA does this by providing grants, entrepreneurship and venture training labs, mentoring, investment advice and other resources to faculty and students. Approximately 200 colleges and universities belong to this outstanding organization.
This year's inventor showcase was held at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and it highlighted invention teams from around the U.S. In fact, one of my graduate students, Jonathan Beckhardt, worked with teams at the highly regarded Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to provide two very essential inventions to villages in Peru. One invention is called GiraDora and it's a human-powered washer and spin dryer that agitates, cleans, rinses, and spin-dries clothes in about 10 minutes. The machine costs less than $40. The other invention is called Balde a Balde (bucket to bucket) and it's a portable faucet that provides running water like a faucet from any container. I tried both devices and thought they were amazing!
The projects ranged from a new LED light developed at Stanford University that treats jaundice in babies at a much lower cost than the current flourescent tubes (great for the developing world) to an innovative, environmentally friendly anti-infection technology called Osmotec and developed by a team at Purdue University. You can find the videos for all the inventions at http://nciia.org/openminds/2012/videos. I guarantee you'll be impressed with the creativity of these teams.
It is very gratifying to see today's college students engaged in solving real societal problems with simple, affordable solutions. In a time when it seems that the only thing people are interested in is Internet ventures and sexy electronics, it's nice to know there are still people out there trying to eradicate some of the most pressing issues faced by people around the world.
Congratulations to all the E-Teams at NCIIA this year and to many more years of innovative solutions!