Digital technology in the form of the Personal Computer and the Internet has already transformed work, education, government, leisure and entertainment, generating new market opportunities and having a major economic impact across a broad range of sectors.
The emergence of new digital infrastructures, including wireless networks, mobile devices and positioning technologies, heralds the next radical shift in digital technology as it becomes embedded into the public spaces, architectures, furniture and the personal fabric of our daily lives.
But what if you live in a developing nation and these new technologies are too expensive to own and operate?
Enter: frugal innovation. Frugal innovation or frugal engineering is the process of reducing the complexity and cost of a good and its production.
In a recently published article entitled, “Devices for the Digital Economy: Frugal Innovation,” author and expert, Danielle Beurteaux, writes:
“Millions of people around the world still lack consistent access to the basics of modern life. They also lack resources to build conventional infrastructure in order to obtain essentials such as water and a consistent supply of electricity.” And that, she writes, is where frugal innovation comes in.
Beurteaux provides some examples of frugal innovations that are currently in use in many developing nations, which include:
The Waterpoint Data Transmitter
“About 780 million people, mainly in rural locations, don’t have indoor plumbing. Instead, they rely on hand pumps to access groundwater. Sooner or later, these hand pumps break and often aren’t fixed due to lack of parts and know-how,” she writes adding that the Waterpoint Data Transmitter is a monitoring device that communities deploy to track pump usage. If a pump stops working, a local, trained repair team receives a notification to fix it.
“Solar power has become an important technology for people living in off-the-grid rural environments. But once the sun goes down, or during spells of cloudy days, the solar panels may not generate enough electricity. The Quad is a small wall-mounted unit that’s wired to a solar panel that comes with a USB port for mobile phone charging,” she writes, adding that the system uses the company’s HomeSmart technology to monitor local weather patterns and learn consumers’ energy usage. Then, based on available energy, it automatically regulates the amount of power used for lighting and battery charging.
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