Matt Berg over at BuildAfrica blog has an interesting story of Mr Acheampong, a local entrepreneur who makes money by charging people’s mobile phones. He uses a homemade C-cell battery setup to do this (see below):

“Mr. Acheampong, one of the Abusuapanin Community Leader’s in Bonsaaso village, use’s 4 C dry cell batteries to charge mobile phones. The four 1.5V batteries in series adds up to 6V which is similar to the 5.5V that most cell phones require (amperage varies). The set of batteries cost 1 Ghana Cedi and he is able to charge four phones before needing to replace the batteries. This compares to the 1 Cedi cost of charging a phone at the local cell tower.”

However, Matt points out how inefficient this type of setup is. There are new low-cost options including the Tough Stuff Solar Panel coming in at around $20 retail.

Fundamentally speaking one of the most essential components of any industrial ecosystem is the machine tool a device which is used to “fabricate metal components of machines“. Consequently the absence of a machining capacity precludes the ability of an entity (regional,national and or continent-wide) to industrialize.The question then becomes how do we effectively seed and propagate the skill of machining cheaply and pervasively? How do we Bootstrap the Industrial Age? The open source MultiMachine presents us with what could turn out to be one of the more attractive options. Wikipedia describes it as an:

…all-purpose open source machine tool that can be built inexpensively by a semi-skilled mechanic with common hand tools, from discarded car and truck parts, using only commonly available hand tools and no electricity. Its size can range from being small enough to fit in a closet to one a hundred times that size. The MultiMachine can accurately perform all the functions of an entire machine shop by itself.

Lets think about this for a minute “an all purpose machine tool that…can accurately perform all the functions of an entire machine shop” built from discarded parts by semi-skilled mechanics (replace with,jua kali workers,suame magazine fabbers etc.) What may be missing? A power source of sorts with the necessary torque and availability even in the most rural of areas.Perhaps coupling it with a system like the multifunctional platform would solve that problem.

Can we now make the assumption that all the necessary pieces are available, albeit with the expected and necessary geographic/environmental adaption needed for individual installations? Admittedly it does seem somewhat more feasible, the task at hand is too envision methods of making such systems available to those in-need fabricators.Those who may argue against the bottom-up rudimentary approach should consider this.Contrary to the perceived wisdom a considerable number of machine parts are still made in small engineering workshops, where they ultimately provide the input for larger better known industrial behemoths even in uber-industrialized Japan. Maker Faire Africa with its commitment to embedding metal hacking far and wide will do its very best place to support this approach and others like it and have fun while doing so…

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Ay Smith, Founder of D-Lab and the International Development Design Summit at MIT

Ay Smith, Founder of D-Lab and the International Development Design Summit at MIT

As part of its annual roster of Breakthrough Awards for “life-changing innovations,” Popular Mechanics magazine has awarded its top honors to MIT Senior Lecturer Amy B. Smith, creator of the D-Lab classes that foster clever low-tech solutions to pressing problems in developing nations.

Calling Smith “a visionary,” the magazine gave her its Breakthrough Leadership award, the top honor out of the 20 awards in its annual list. The magazine cited her as “an inspiration to students and volunteers who dedicate their time to improve the standard of living in Haiti, Ghana, India and other countries. She is leading a movement to tackle complex problems with simple technology.”

In addition to D-Lab, Smith runs the International Development Design Summit each summer, which brings dozens of people from around the world together for four weeks for intensive brainstorming and prototyping of solutions to local problems from different regions of the developing world. After being held at MIT for the last two years, next summer the summit will take place in Ghana, giving the participants more direct contact with the kinds of communities their inventions are intended to serve.

“It will be interactive in a way we haven’t been able to do” at MIT, says Smith, whose work is still sustained in part by a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” she received four years ago. For participants who come from industrialized countries, she said, the summit in Ghana will enable “people who haven’t had a chance to experience life in the developing world” to be immersed in that environment firsthand.

Even for those from other developing nations, she said, it’s a chance “for people from Tibet to see what life is like in Ghana,” for example. “People tend to lump the developing world together,” she said, but the problems and potential vary widely from one country to another.

Meanwhile, D-Lab itself continues to grow, having doubled in size over the last year, she says. And it has helped to inspire a variety of other classes and projects that embody Smith’s approach of addressing the basic, local needs of people around the world through small-scale engineering with simple tools and readily available materials.

“MIT students are incredibly lucky now,” she says. “If they wanted to be involved in this kind of development work every single semester they’re here, they could do that now. That didn’t used to be the case.”

The Popular Mechanics awards were presented at a banquet in New York on Oct. 15, with Smith as the keynote speaker.

[Props Amy! Snipped from MIT News]

Photo by Popular Mechanics

Photo by Popular Mechanics

Congratulations to IDDS coordinator, MIT senior lecturer and MFA collaborator Amy Smith on her recent profile in Popular Mechanic’s “Top 10 Innovations of the Year.Check out the video, where you can hear the passion she shares a s real leader in low-cost, practical solutions that can be locally made.

D-Lab occupies a former shipping area in a basement beneath MIT’s famous Infinite Corridor, which connects many of the university’s buildings. Scattered about the room, beneath a jumble of pipes and ductwork, is a curious collection that includes corn shellers, grain mills, solar panels, piles of red-speckled corncobs, sooty charcoal briquettes and one large plastic container labeled “Holly’s Bovine Faecal Matter—Do Not Remove Please.”

The visionary who presides over this idiosyncratic work space is senior lecturer Amy B. Smith, a leader in the appropriate technology movement, which helps people in developing countries through the creation of simple, low-cost technology. Smith’s own designs—for no-electricity medical lab equipment, better grain mills and more—have won awards and improved lives. But she is also a pied piper for appropriate tech nology—and the engineers she inspires may constitute her greatest achievement.

“More and more students around the world want to make a difference, as well as making a living,” says Paul Polak, a leader in the field and the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. “Amy’s giving them that opportunity.” Smith and her students tackle problems in countries as far-flung as Haiti, Ghana and India. Her growing cadre of followers and former students praise her offbeat humor and ability to focus, even when bouncing on Third World buses after sleeping on cold, manure-stained concrete. After joining Smith and other students in Peru last January, Mary Hong, now a 19-year-old MIT junior, switched her major from aerospace to mechanical engineering. (See “Fixing the World on $2 a Day,” Aug. ’08.) “Amy is genuinely passionate about her work,” Hong says. “She has ideas, and she goes out and does something about them.”