Back to one of your favorite topics, technology for good. Incredible startups and established giants adopt innovative technology to help weak people and to solve human problems. It’s not about charity, many of them operate for profit, but I can easily perceive the value and the mission behind their projects. This post features a company lending eyes to blind people, an app promoting democracy where the environment is hard, a tech startup trying to make internet navigation safe, a nanobiophysic company changing the way we fight pandemic diseases, a group of young gentlemen helping people affected by Parkinson to restore a piece of normal life, a tech giant bringing cures to Africa in a completely unexpected way, an Israelian initiative to make your smartphone sniff hidden diseases and, last but not least, a pure genius innovation to change the way we locate everything on the globe. There are clearly many other brilliant companies out there, so if I’m missing anything great, it’s just my fault, but believe me I scout every day for initiatives which deserve to have this window, and I post frequently, so just stay tuned. For each project there is a link, picture or video, so I invite you to be curious and visit them to learn more.
BE MY EYES
Be My Eyes is an app that connects blind people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat. Yes, what is simple and obvious for you and me, is not when your eyes are blind. For example the expiry dates on a can. Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who is visually impaired himself, came up with the idea for the application and started working on in in 2012. Their open source solution is now an app, launched in Jan 2015, connecting live a person requiring assistance to a volunteer who can literally lend his or her eyes. Right now there is more than 10 times the amount of helpers compared to visually impaired. This is the measure of their success or, even better, the thousands of everyday tasks that impaired people coped with. I love this idea and I endorse it, I’m ready to download the app and check if I can help in Italy. This is really technology for good.
The guys at Behaviosec perfected an algorithm that analyzes activity from login to logout, looking at behaviors like keystroke dynamics, touch and mouse motion and authenticate individuals. The way we navigate the internet, surf a page and perform repetitive tasks on the web are like a fingerprint and we can be recognized by it. Behaviosec compares the behavior in a navigation session to previous interactions from the same user and when anomalous activity is detected, it provides a breakdown of the session. The algorithm continually redefines consistency by learning from every interaction. Passive learning means verified customers won’t notice and they are protected without even knowing it. They call it behavioral biometric and it’s a step ahead compared to the classic authentication methods based on binary items (passwords, codes etc…) which are a legacy of a technology built in the eighties. I know you’re thinking this is not technology for good and I think this is not correct: if they hack my online banking, I’m the weak. Today they secure more than 1.5 billion transactions a year, hope mine as well.
How many times do you vote per year? Usually once every two to four years. How often do you interact with one of your representatives to discuss an idea? Almost never. How can you influence politicians? With a like on Facebook maybe. And they call it democracy. In an era where online access is commonplace around the world, a group of activists, entrepreneurs, students and hackers got together and designed an open source, free software with an easy user experience for citizens to get informed, debate and vote on every single bill presented in Congress. They then discussed a prototype of their app with existing political parties in Argentina (home country of the founders), which basically showed no interest in the idea. And you know what happened? It has been spontaneously adopted in Tunisia to debate its national constitution; by the Federal Government of Mexico to develop its open government policy; by the youngest parliamentarian in Kenya to consult his constituency and others are joining. People cannot hide behind secret avatars and the tool is slowly changing how democracy is managed, building a new balance between representative democracy and direct democracy.
In an age of cell phones, human genome sequencing, and Google self-driving cars, even the world’s best hospitals (and airports) are still relying upon a thermometer, a 400-year-old technology, to decide who to quarantine for Ebola. Nanobiosym patented Gene-RADAR, a Tricorder device that enables gold standard real-time diagnosis of any disease with a genetic fingerprint; at a cost at least 10 times cheaper than any comparable diagnostic tests on the market today. It’s a game changer technology; by precision controlling nanomachines that read and write DNA, new technologies like Gene-RADAR can rapidly and affordably detect and quantify genetic fingerprints of various pathogens like Ebola, HIV, and the flu. Quantifying the viral loads of viruses before symptoms appear will radically change how we stop the spread of diseases and prevent future pandemics. If humanity has won the recent Ebola it’s because hero people have been helped by state of the art technology like this one. Another example of technology for good.
Have you ever met a person with hand tremors, due to Parkinson or same family diseases? I do, my mother. She can’t drink a coffee easily, writing is incredibly difficult, even tapping the right point on a tablet can be hard; cooking, reading and many other simple tasks become a small mountain to climb. Every day. The Team at Gyrogear developed GyroGlove, a high tech glove which couples spinning discs (gyroscopes) to the hand. These gyroscopes instantaneously and proportionally stabilize hand tremors. In other words, they instantaneously and proportionally resist a person’s hand movement, thereby steadying any tremors in the wearer’s hand. The design is simple: a miniature, dynamically adjustable gyroscope sits on the back of the hand, within a plastic casing attached to the glove’s material and it’s incredibly light. The picture here well represents the logic. A smartphone app diligently tracks the progress of the tremor and keeps the patient, his / her family and the doctor informed. The technology is based on aerospace technology and claims it can reduce tremors by 80% (with some 90% peaks), giving back pieces of normal life to patients. This affects one in 500 people. A lucid example of technology for good.
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This story is not about startups and young dreamers. This project is backed by Microsoft and it is incredibly visionary. Kgolagano means “to be connected or networked”. The idea is to launch a telemedicine service, in Botswana, over TV white spaces network. Unused spectrum can be used for internet broadcasting. And with internet comes access to specialized maternal medicine, which will improve the livelihoods of women located in small towns and rural areas. In Botswana, the population is scattered on a wide area and it’s difficult to reach people in need. With this example of technology for good, people in villages can send clinical data and images in any place where there’s the capability to interpret them and provide advice and cures. Telemedicine experts and doctors can provide medical expertise for referred patients. I love the idea of using unused resources for good, since my father downloaded the SETI screensaver and when we were not using the computer, it was searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life scanning the space.
The sniffphone is a piece of equipment that can be plugged in your smartphone, backed by a breathalyzer screening technology which provides non-invasive, fast and cheap disease detection. Wow. It works by using micro and nano sensors that read exhaled breath and then transfer the information through the attached mobile phone to an information-processing system for interpretation. The data is then assessed and disease diagnosis and other details are ascertained. That technology can identify individuals from the general population who have a higher likelihood for contracting a specific disease, and treat them in advance or at an early stage. “The SNIFFPHONE is a winning solution. It will be made tinier and cheaper than disease detection solutions currently, consume little power, and most importantly, it will enable immediate and early diagnosis that is both accurate and non-invasive,” says Prof. Haick. And obviously cancer is among the diseases that can be detected. It’s another great weapon for prevention healthcare and can save lives. A consortium backed by the European Commission and including research institutes, universities and private companies is working hard to improve the solution.
WHAT 3 WORDS
Trovano.crampi.manovre. These 3 words identify a 3X3 meter cell, which is where I live. They have a meaning in Italian which I can easily remember, more or less like my address. Yes, because I have an address. But the guys at What 3 Words realized that around 75% of the world, more than 135 countries, suffers from inadequate addressing. In other words 4 billion people are invisible, unable to get deliveries or receive aid, and unable to exercise their rights as citizens. So they created what3words, a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares. In other words there’s a geocoder which turns geographic coordinates into these 3 word addresses and vice-versa. Each square has a unique 3 word combination that can be communicated quickly, easily and with no ambiguity. Now every place in the world, including oceans and the artic has an address. Poor addressing costs businesses billions of dollars and hampers the growth and development of entire nations. Now it’s solved. Japan, for example, is a delivery nightmare: often homes are numbered according to when they were built and the reference is after or before another building. Dubai expats filling in US tax forms often have to draw a picture of where they live, because of lack of clear addresses. Buildings with more than one entrance can be hard to reach. Countries with difficult languages, at least for non-native speakers, will be simplified also for the tourist. Emergencies will be tracked with no risk of errors and delays. Places hosting temporary events will be able to identify internal locations with simplicity. The number of potential applications is huge. The app functions without a data connection. This solves a perpetual constraint when in remote and unaddressed locations, or in areas with poor connectivity, saving expensive roaming charges as well. As I said in the title, pure genius.
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