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2015’s top tech projects for social good

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The Nominet Trust 100 is a list of the most inspiring uses of technology for social good in over 200 countries. This year’s projects including 3D-printed orthotics, portable inflatable incubators for premature babies, internet balloons and aid drones.

The index aims to celebrate ‘global pioneers who are using digital technology to change millions of lives for the better’.

Here are Techworld’s favourites for 2015 – and some of the best from last year.

2015: Andiamo

UK company Andiamo uses 3D scanning and printing to create affordable orthotics (external braces for the spine or limbs) for young people. 3D printing reduces the manufacture time from 13 weeks to just one week, revolutionising healthcare for disabled children.

2015: Digital Green

India-based global not-for-profit Digital Green allows rural communities across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to share locally successful projects via video to encourage wider adoption. The organisation trains people in how to record and display 8-10 minute videos, which are shared on Digital Green’s social network ‘FarmerBook’. As of April 2015 4,000 videos had reached over 660,000 individuals.

2015: MOM

Every year almost one million babies born prematurely do not survive their first few months, and they face a particularly difficult fight in the developing world. MOM, a portable, collapsible, inflatable incubator, hopes to help. It runs on very little power and can use solar energy or even car batteries. It costs £250 compared to the £30,000 industry norm. MOM’s founder James Roberts claims it could help save 75 percent of premature babies.

2015: HALO

HALO (help and locate operations) uses unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and remote sensing platforms to gather aerial images of disaster zones. This gives aid organisations and emergency services crucial data on the scale of the disaster and the areas that require immediate attention, allowing them to coordinate relief efforts and deploy aid effectively. HALO was first used in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2014.

2015: Instant Detect

A camera trap conservation system that monitors wildlife, connected via satellite imagery and active in Kenya and Antarctica. It helps to tackle poaching of endangered species by providing an early warning system for rangers

2015: SMS in Somalia

Oxfam and UNICEF plus local partner Hijra worked together to combat an ‘explosive’ outbreak of polio in Somalia in May 2013. The disease was spread thanks to a lack of immunisation in remote areas, poor hygiene and population movements caused by political instability. As face-to-face intervention was providing difficult, the partners set up a mobile phone-based service to improve polio awareness, provide healthcare advice and send out vouchers for soap and clean water. It reached 104,358 people with a completion rate of 86 percent. The last polio case in Somalia was in August 2014.

2015: Open Bionics

As bionic limbs can cost up to £80,000, many of the estimated two million hand amputees worldwide must make do without a working prosthesis. UK-based firm Open Bionics has developed a much more affordable bionic hand – cheaper because it is 3D-printed using thermoplastic elastomer, a flexible plastic. It is tailor-made and printed in a matter of days, compared to the usual waiting time of up to three months.

Project Loon

Scientists at Google have come up with an idea to help deliver internet connectivity to the 60 percent of the global population that still lack it: balloons. Project Loon, a Google X Moonshot Factory initiative, is developing a system of large air balloons that can float in the stratosphere 20 km above the Earth. The balloons form a wireless network that people on the ground can connect to in much the same way as they would a cell tower, and each balloon can provide internet to a 40 km diameter area.

U-Report

UNICEF set out to give young people a platform to have their opinions heard and came up with U-Report, a messaging platform that engages young people in political debate and carries out polls on issues of importance to them. It was originally piloted in Uganda, where 55 percent of the population is 18 years old or younger, and 48 percent of people have access to mobile phones. The service offers them information and asks for their views on topics such as education, water, sanitation and hygiene, youth unemployment, HIV/AIDS and disease outbreaks.

2015: GyroGlove

Hand tremors are a symptom affecting up to 200 million people globally, caused by conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Those afflicted can suffer a diminished quality of life and are often reliant on help from others to perform even simple tasks. In a bid to help, a group of Imperial College students have developed GyroGlove – which uses gyroscopes to reduce tremors. In testing it has reduced tremors by up to 80 percent.

2014: Low-cost 3D printed house

Wikihouse is an open source project that allows anyone to design and build houses cheaply using blueprints downloaded from the internet. It was used in New Zealand after the 2011 earthquake, is being trialled in Brazil and China and is being considered by aid agencies for disaster relief.

2014: Portable eye examination app

Peek, is a portable eye examination app for professional eye exams from a smartphone. The kit features a clip-on camera adapter that gives high quality images of the back of the eye and retina. The team have partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to help prevent the estimated 5.6 million avoidable cases of blindness globally every year.

2014: Diagnostic teddy bear

‘Teddy the Guardian’ is a teddy bear with embedded sensors that measure a child’s heart rate, oxygen and body temperature when its paw is squeezed. That data is then captured and transmitted in real time to a mobile app where it can be analysed and downloaded by medical staff and parents.

2014: Mapping sexual harassment in Egypt

HarassMap is a tool allowing those assaulted or harassed in Egypt to anonymously report their experiences. Reports are plotted on a Google-style map with each report appearing as a red dot. When you click on the dot, the full text of the report is displayed. The developers hope that providing a view of the reality and scope of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Egypt will help to end its social acceptability.

2014: Private search engine

DuckDuckGo is an internet search engine that protects the searchers’ privacy. It promises not to profile users and deliberately shows all users the same search results for a given search term. It aims to get information from the best sources rather than the most popular. The initiative is one of a number highlighted by Nominet as protecting personal information in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

2014: Light powered by gravity

Gravity Light is a device that generates light from gravity. It takes three seconds to light the weight, which powers 25 minutes of light on its descent. The product is pitched as an alternative to burning dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps in the developing world.

2014: Mobile skin analytics

Skin analytics is a smartphone attachment that allows you to use your mobile phone to photograph, measure and diagnose skin moles to check for risk of melanoma. The company, based in Cambridge, was set up by two MBA students at London Business School and launched in 2011.

2014: ‘Skype for the over 65s’

SpeakSet, which calls itself ‘Skype for the over 65s’, allows older people to make video calls to their family, carers or doctors from a TV, laptop or computer. It is used by NHS clinical commissioning groups, charities, care homes and GPs and aims to improve the quality of care, reduce isolation and cut readmission rates.

2014: Wearable device for sight loss

FingerReader is a finger-worn device that helps users to read printed text. Wearers scan a text line with their finger and receive an audio feedback of the words on the page.

2014: Panic button

Panic Button is an app launched to help human rights defenders call the alarm when facing attack, kidnapping or torture. It transforms a user’s smartphone into a secret alarm which can be activated rapidly in the event of emergency, alerting fellow activists to the danger their colleague faces so they can get help faster.

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