For July 4th, we headed down to the D.C. Folk Life Festival today on the Washington Mall.
The Peace Corps had a number of exhibits at the festival, including one on what they call "Appropriate Technology."
Appropriate technology is about being user-centric when applying technology to the local needs and realities on the ground around the world.
There are 3 key rules in developing and implementing appropriate technology:
1) Affordable--technology has to be affordable for the people that are going to use it. Even if it saves money in the long-term, it has to be something that can be acquired by people without access to traditional financing in the short-term.
2) Local--the material must be available locally in order to make it accessible to people living in remote and even dangerous parts of the world.
3) Transparent--the design of the technology must be transparent with the assembly instructions available to the local people, so that it can be maintained indigenously.
One company that is helping needy people around the world using appropriate technology is Global Cycle Solutions.
Two products from this company that attach to your bicycle were on display and one was actually being demonstrated:
1) Corn Sheller--For $75 plus shipping this attachment to your bicycle shells corn from the husks in pretty amazing speed. According to the supplier, you "can fill a 90-kg sack of maize in 40 minutes and 10-15 sacks per day...[so the] machine pays for itself within a month." (Pictured you can see the exhibitor from Peace Corps loading the corn into the device and the husk coming out the other end; a little girl is pedaling and powering the device in one, and a little boy is spinning the wheel in the other.)
2) Phone Charger--For $10 plus shipping this bicycle attachment charges your phone as you pedal from place to place or as you spin the wheel in place. According to the website, it "charges as quickly as using a wall outlet." (Pictured is the bike and charger on display.)
Since bicycles are routinely found around the world, these add-on devices that help in food preparation and communications are practical and cost-effective.
Appropriate technology is not a technical term and the concept is not rocket-science, yet if we just keep in mind the people we serve--what their needs are and what constraints they may be living under--we can make solutions that are functional, cost-effective and sensible, and we'll can help a lot of needy people in the world, bells and whistles aside.