Author Archives: Karen Eng

Could you build your own house, car or tractor? Marcin Jakubowski on his adventures in extreme manufacturing

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What if you could build a civilization from scratch, using tools that could also be built from scratch? In his talk “Open-sourced blueprints for civilization” at TED2011, Marcin Jakubowski introduced the Global Village Construction Set, open-source blueprints that would essentially allow anyone with a heap of scrap metal — and a few production tools — to make 50 machines covering all the needs of a basic civilization: agriculture, energy, transportation and production.

In the last two years, this TED Fellow has been working to make this radical idea a reality on Factor e Farm — a community based on 30 acres near Kansas City, Missouri. The TED Blog caught up with him to find out how the project is going, and to hear how his marriage to fellow Fellow (and open-source scholar) Catarina Mota (watch her talk, “Play with smart materials“) has brought domestic bliss into the construction equation.

It’s been a couple of years since you gave your talk on the Global Village Construction set. It generated a lot of excitement and about $1 million in funding. How has the project developed since then?

Machines that are ready for viral replication are the brick press, the hydraulic power unit and the soil pulverizer. The tractor needs some work. We’ve built a number of other prototypes — like the CNC torch table, a backhoe, an ironworker machine for cutting slabs of steel, a circuit mill and a trencher. We have an early prototype of a microcar and a 3D printer.

As we continue to prototype and develop more tools in the set, we are working to both develop a community and generate revenue, because our foundation funding has run out. To do this, we’ve experimented with a workshop model, where we teach interested people how to build the tools in a three-day immersion learning course. People paid a fee to take a weekend-long workshop, and we also sold the completed equipment. We’ve done a total of four microhouse workshops, one brick press workshop, one Power Cube workshop and one microcar workshop. Take the brick press, for example. It costs $5,000, we earned about $5,000 in tuition fees, and we sold the press for $10,000. It’s an education/production revenue model. The person who bought the brick press even came to the workshop and participated in the build. The general feedback was that people were really excited to build things that they didn’t think they could before the workshop.

A backhoe manufacture in progress at Factor E Farms. Photo: Open Source Ecology

A backhoe manufacture in progress at Factor E Farms. Photo: Open Source Ecology

How has your perspective on this project changed since your talk?

I’m seeing that this work takes a long time to develop, so it’s more like a two-decade project than the two-year project I initially imagined. So I’ve revised my timeline and am planning for the long haul. I’ve realized that to make the Global Village Construction Set tools feasible, we need to explore what’s known as extreme manufacturing, which means rapid parallel building of the technologies. That means we have to get full infrastructure for rapid development in place — rapid prototyping, collaborative design — and a massive parallel development effort. The key to this is producing excellent, comprehensive, open documentation that anyone can access, and thus join the project rapidly. The workshop/funding model is a part of this plan.’

We have shown that we can build a brick press in a single day, for example. Now we’re focusing on building multiple machines and structures at the same time with different groups of people. Recently, we got that to the level of housing. We built a house in five days using compressed blocks from our Compressed Earth Block Press, plus standard modular construction techniques. Our next goal is to build a 3,000-square-foot electronics workshop in two days with 100 people.

In essence, what we’ll attempt is parallel group builds via workshops happening simultaneously. We are creating a process that’s social, educational and productive all at once. We just need to scale it and make it highly replicable. If we can hire people to teach, we could have a number of these revenue-generating workshops going on all at once. Meanwhile, I could carry on developing machines.

The missing link is people. That’s the perennial issue. We are in real need of diversely-skilled people who are both organizers and builders. However, we’ve had a couple of workshop attendees that later became workshop leaders. They had enough skill that they could actually pull it off.

An engine module, for use with the Power Cube, which generates hydraulic power. Photo: Open Source Ecology

An engine module, for use with the Power Cube, which generates hydraulic power. Photo: Open Source Ecology

What kind of person is motivated to do this?

A maker, a creator, a DIY-type of person. People interested in self-sufficiency, regenerative development, as well as survivalists. A person who does it because it’s possible. Our goal is to bring the barriers way down to do this.

In fact, one new insight we’ve gained is that we’re able to lead unskilled teams of people through a process of a complex machine build. At the workshops, we had people who’d never welded before. And even myself — without prior experience in fabrication, I taught myself to do it. If you have the willingness, the technology is accessible. But you do need the open-source design blueprints and detailed instructions.

And then there are motivated entrepreneurs. One of our guys is now selling our Power Cubes, the hydraulic power units, as a business.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

 

 

How to build a real energy revolution in Africa: David Moinina Sengeh

PowerGen’s “PowerBox” comprises 1.4kW of solar panels, 9kWh of batteries and a 3kW inverter. It supplies power to 14 clients in Nkoilale, Kenya, all of whom pay for the electricity via mobile phones. Photo by David Sengeh.

PowerGen’s “PowerBox” comprises 1.4kW of solar panels, 9kWh of batteries and a 3kW inverter. It supplies power to 14 clients in Nkoilale, Kenya, all of whom pay for the electricity via mobile phones. Photo by David Sengeh.

As part of the TED Ideas blog ongoing series “Questions worth asking”, David Moinina Sengeh explains why he’s bullish about the “microgrid.” Here’s an excerpt.

Nearly 70% of the sub-Saharan African population doesn’t have electricity. That’s about 600 million people who are completely off-grid, often paying high prices in cash and health to use diesel generators, kerosene lamps and charcoal fires.

Recently, we’ve seen a wealth of stories about entrepreneurs who promise clever solutions for these unhealthy, smoke-belching products. The replacements may differ, but all seem to agree: Installing actual electricity infrastructure in Africa would take too long and be too expensive to be practical. So instead there’s a focus on products that, while often very smart, and certainly well-meaning, serve only one single use. I’m talking bike-powered mobile phone chargers, solar-powered lamps,“pot-in-pot” refrigerators.

I’m not alone in finding something grating about the idea that people living on the continent should make do with an inferior solution that westerners wouldn’t tolerate for a second. The cleverest solar lightbulb in the world is no replacement for a standard AC-current plug that allows you to power anything you want or need. Pot-in-pot refrigerators will not store and keep safe large volumes of vaccines and bicycles will not generate enough power to support any form of manufacturing or production.

A friend of mine, Sam Slaughter, is the co-founder of PowerGen, a company that wants to install “microgrids” across the continent. Microgrids are small, local versions of the traditional electricity grid. They can run independently, powered by fuel cells, wind, solar, and so on. Their autonomy makes them appealing in remote locations where sustainable energy such as wind and sun are abundant — and they help to pull the focus away from these one-by-one solutions, and toward giving homes and businesses real power they can use as they choose.

Lillian Muthoni owns a restaurant in Nkoilale; now hooked into the microgrid, she now pays about $22 a month for power. Previously she’d spent up to $130 on diesel for a generator. Photo by David Sengeh.

Lillian Muthoni owns a restaurant in Nkoilale; now hooked into the microgrid, she now pays about $22 a month for power. Previously she’d spent up to $130 on diesel for a generator. Photo by David Sengeh.

When I spoke to him recently, Sam compared the current state of the African energy sector to the state of the African telecoms industry decades ago. “The pioneers of wireless telecommunications in Africa made a big bet that African consumers wanted world-class mobile communication service, and they invested in the infrastructure to deliver it by building tens of thousands of telecom towers throughout the continent,” he told me. “They faced enormous risks — including serious regulatory headwinds from government-owned landline telecom operators.”

The result: African telecoms have famously leapfrogged the west, building mobile payment systems, for instance, that many western countries haven’t yet managed to pull off.

“Now,” Sam continued,  “we are faced with a similar question in energy: do we as the private sector invest in infrastructure like microgrids to deliver the solution that the consumers want — which is grid-style, AC electricity — or do we ignore the lessons of the telecom revolution and decide that African consumers should settle for something less, which is DC-only solar lanterns and solar home systems?” No prizes for guessing which bet Sam is preparing to make.

To read the full story, visit the TED Ideas blog >>>

 

A poem from the future: Ben Burke

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This week, the TED Ideas blog launched its new “Question Worth Asking”: “How weird will the future be?” The series of articles kicks off with weird and wonderful piece from poet and TED Fellow Ben Burke

[Dear Helen- So sorry. Didn’t have time to write that poem. But my future self sent me one yesterday. So we’re good. Crazy, right? It’s totally legit and actually from the future, so no need to double-check, you’re probably too busy anyway. Also included is the typewritten note that was taped to the package. Happy New Year!  – Ben Burke]

THE TRANSHUMANIST’S LAMENT
or
TOO MANY RIVERS, NOT ENOUGH LAKES
or
OH, FUTURE — YOU SO CRAZY

I arrived in the basket that was weaved here before me
And I stayed in any place with a roof that would store me
I have lots of belongings
But didn’t pack for the trip
I got here, they put pants on me
And then the world gave me the slip

I’ve lived as slowly as I could
Because there was no time to waste
But then things just got so weird
That I just had to grab your ear
And give the tongue inside your mind a little taste:

For example:

The wallpaper can see that you’re stressed,
So it turns a lovely shade of blue
The thermostat has thought things over
And is ready to have a word with you

And your closet picked out your outfit
for the party Friday night
Whilst the blender and the toaster
made vindaloo by candlelight

And Doctor mailman robot
Printed your pills in quite a hurry
Your vitamins were running low
Now there’s B12 in your curry

But your personality algorithm
was accidentally miswritten
You forgot your fingernails were all encoded
and you bit them

Now the discs of your thumbnails
are gangrene, corrupted
The chip that was slipped
twixt each digit erupted

Your sensors and servos
Implants and additions
All bent towards a personal program of precision

Your body’s expanded
Your spirit is failing
The row boat got a motor but wants to be sailing

Yes every Thing now is thinking
We are each our own king
But there’s no kingdom here to speak of
It’s a pot luck, but we’ve nothing to bring

For the air now is as thick as the sea
With every thing we created, each idea we have dreamed

Yes we screamed and filled the skies with drones and clones of drones
Now they’re crashing on our couches as they move into our homes
And taking in some old stray nanobots
Now the drones have a family
Now the drones have a dog
There’s so many drones, we all miss having cops

Yes life never stops, there’s no room to start over
Though we have deftly fashioned countless walls
Every thing that you want or you need or just hoped for
Is always round the corner, and just down the hall

We are tubes inside of tubes inside of tubes inside of more
We are a sinking ship that’s filled with valves, and pouches, switches, doors

A whirling servo for your heart-
It no longer beats, it hums
Every poem will be disposed of that once compared our hearts to drums

We are a hurricane that just built a fountain
A pile of rocks with an eye for the mountain
But keep your ears to the ground for the counting
For the number of hooves that are rumbling round it
Numb to the sound of the sirens surrounding

For we will stretch ourselves further
Than we ever have before
And one day, there’s no doubt, we will snap

With our nose to the grindstone
of progress
We’ll all make our way
to the top, then collapse

For though we’ve imagined where it is we’re all headed-
We do not yet know where we stand
The future can’t hold for us a promise, my friend
It’s a ghost with a pair of clouds for hands

Yes the future isn’t waiting there for us-
It is quietly being pulled through us
It’s an illustration of our secret ways
and yet we cannot say who drew us

For as soon as the word is pronounced
There’s a parade!
The new product arrives!
In your ear
On your finger
Up your nose
And
In your eyes

Yes we’ve figured out a way to make you all feel MORE alive
(side effects may include
shortness of breath
thoughts of suicide or death
but most likely just
anxiety
and hives)

You’ll be a walking coral reef
You’ll be the tide pools filled with teeth
You’ll be a mouth that’s always chewing
You’ll be a tongue that’s underneath it all
You’ll be the roof, the ceiling, and all the papered walls

You’ll be prefixed
With endo
And intra
And supra

As they watch you
And poke you
And cut you
And shoot ya

Let us mend every seam with some sutures
Let them sew up the holes in your life with the future

But who are we inside of this thing that we’ve built?
We’re a bowl full of milk that’s about to be spilt

For there is always a storm that is coming
The word on the tip of all tongues now is fear
We’d all love to cry out, but we’re too filled with doubt
That’s no diamond, my friend, it’s a tear

That’s no animal, in fact-
No we’ve all just learned
each of them is a sentient being
Why there’s so many facts
That are all in the past
It’s unbelievable- the things that we weren’t seeing

It turns out that Reiki is real
And meditation’s no longer a joke
We’ve all been such fools, but now we teach it in the schools
And yes the hippies are all pretty stoked

And the universe, it just so happens,
Is just the way Tesla found it-
It’s all about frequencies… and vibrations….. and things
We just had to wrap our little heads around it

Yes, we still don’t like the unknown
We need to have things defined
We want our world to make sense
We like it when nature rhymes

Even if only slightly
Even if we must bend
What we see and we hear to fit the means to our end

We all just spend our lives
Trying to overcome our births
Trying to get along with Death
And then untie ourselves from Earth

Now we vacation on the moon
And yes, we’ve flown beyond the stars
And can you guess where I just sent this from?
I’ll give you a hint- It’s Mars

Now we can grow your bones for you
And buildings build themselves, for free
But there’s still work for you to do:
You must remember how to be-

Just like the ocean when it’s thinking
Just be that storm that’s always brewing
You’re an idea
Just one idea
Of what one person on earth could be doing

And what animal doesn’t love
Going out to chase wonder?
Only to learn of the lightning
just before there is thunder?

Look above you- it’s raining
Look around- there’s a flood
Who can say when it started,
but now the ghost is in our blood

We can only move forward
Only turn back for a time
Now the only sacred space left
In the world
Is our mind

And it’s running away with itself and the others
Like the wind through the trees-
Phantom sisters and brothers
Have gone the way of the bees
And the birds and the lovers

Yes they’ve all been drawn and quartered
A million horses left the track
The future will take your mind off of itself-
So I suggest you start stealing it back

For our time here, like the twilight
Is precious and fading
And while there’s certainly nothing new under the sun-
Under the moon, there is waiting

Signed-
Sincerely,

Future Self
Good day and good luck and good bye

P.S.
Oh that’s right,
I nearly forgot-
Everyone in the future says Hi

To listen to Burke’s recording of the poem, visit the Ideas blog >>>

Are you being tracked? A TED Fellow on how law enforcement follows your movements, and why you should care

Did you know that across the United States, cameras are automatically taking pictures of your car’s license plate as you drive by, recording your plate number and your locations over time? In a chilling talk given at TEDGlobal 2014, civil liberties lawyer and TED Fellow Catherine Crump called attention to the ubiquity of mass surveillance technology currently being deployed without public awareness, laws governing its use or privacy policies regulating what happens to the data being collected. (Watch the talk, “The small and surprisingly dangerous detail the police track about you.”)

Crump tells the TED Blog more about her work, and the technologies that are quietly threatening the privacy and civil liberties of innocent people.

You are a civil liberties lawyer with many different strands to your work, but in the talk you gave at TEDGlobal, you focused on automatic license plate reader technology. Why did you choose that topic?

I think it is commonly understood now that the National Security Agency is engaged in the mass surveillance of entire populations. But I don’t think people realize that local police departments often have very powerful mass surveillance technology as well, and I wanted to be able to focus attention on that. At the moment, many people don’t understand this technology, its ubiquity and how it’s being used. People often don’t realize that if you drive a car in the United States, you’re most likely being tracked by license plate readers, and that photographs of you are being taken and stored on a regular basis.

How does it work, and what’s it for?

The license plate reader takes pictures of every passing car, stores the photographs, and converts the plates into machine-readable text to extract the license plate numbers. That plate number can be checked against a hot list of cars — for instance, cars associated with someone who’s wanted for a crime. That part is unobjectionable. It’s good for the police to be able to automatically tell when a car goes by whether it’s been stolen, for example.

The problem is when law enforcement agents then engage in the mass retention of all the plate data the readers collect — whether or not it pertains to people who may be involved in wrongdoing. You end up with what is essentially a massive tracking database that gathers information about innocent people. The vast majority of us are innocent. Allowing the government to collect massive quantities of information about everyone opens the door to abuse.

A City of Alexandria police car equipped with mobile automatic license plate readers. mounted on the trunk. Photo: Something Original

A City of Alexandria police car equipped with mobile automatic license plate readers. mounted on the trunk. Photo: Something Original

But what could anyone really do with that information that would hurt us?

That information can be abused in a number of ways. Where people go is very revealing. In most parts of the United States, you cannot get anywhere without driving a car. So if you want to go to your therapist or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or to church, all your movements can be tracked. And your movements reveal the types of things you value.

Another reason for concern is that the government has abused information about private citizens in the past, to engage in surveillance. I’m thinking specifically of J. Edgar Hoover, under whom the government collected personal information and used it for political purposes. Unregulated data can be used for political reprisals, for blackmail, or even for simple voyeurism. That’s not something the American public should tolerate.

Traditionally we live in a government of limited powers, and the idea has been that the government only investigates people when they are suspected of wrongdoing. Technology like this almost reverses the presumption and tracks everyone just in case the information may be useful someday. I don’t think that’s in keeping with the limited view of government power that we’ve traditionally had.

Realistically, what can we do? 

I think one problem is that often, even local city councils doesn’t know that their police departments have acquired this technology. At the very least, we need rules that say if you’re going to acquire a surveillance technology, local government needs to know about it, and there should be policies in place that govern how it can be used.

In the case of automatic license plate readers, the good news is that it would be fairly straightforward for policies to allow fair use of the technology for law-enforcement purposes while simultaneously protecting people’s civil liberties. That’s why I think it’s useful to focus on this issue. It can be win-win for everyone.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

For more tolerance, we need more… tourism? Aziz Abu Sarah


Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian activist and cultural educator with an unusual approach to peace-keeping: tourism. In this talk, Sarah tells of how years ago, his older brother was arrested on charges of throwing stones, was beaten — and died of his injuries. Sarah grew up angry, bitter and wanting revenge. But later in life, coming face-to-face with Jewish people, Sarah realized the “enemy” were ordinary human beings who share his love of the small things in life – food, music, culture. He founded MEJDI Tours to send tourists to Jerusalem with two guides, one Jewish and one Palestinian, each offering a different history and narrative of the city. If more of the world’s 1 billion tourists were to engage with real people living real lives, argues Sarah, it would be a powerful force for shattering stereotypes, while promote understanding, friendship and peace.

For more from Abu Sarah, read his piece on the TED Ideas Blog, “What to do when your government collapses.”

Follow Asha de Vos to the Indian Ocean & help save whales from ship strike!

Marine biologist Asha de Vos (watch her TED Talk, “Why you should care about whale poo”, above) is preparing to set sail in her native Indian Ocean to undertake  research about the rare Sri Lankan blue whale and the tragedy of ship strike. To help fund this exciting expedition, she’s launched a campaign on David Lang’s new crowdfunding platform OpenExplorer, which supports new ideas, research and expeditions in science and engineering. Here, she tells us about the expedition and how you can join her in helping to save the planet by saving blue whales.

Tell us about your project.

I’m embarking on an expedition to save a unique and endangered blue whale from getting killed by ships in Sri Lankan waters – the core of what I have been doing for many years. Right now, I’m preparing to kick off my fieldwork in Sri Lanka between February and March 2015. The problem is that unlike most blue whale populations, these are pretty confined to the western part of the Northern Indian Ocean, so are exposed to the risk of ship-strike 365 days of the year. Given that ship traffic in this region has quadrupled since the ’90s because of how trade is changing in the oceans, and is predicted to double in the next two decades, the problem is only going to get worse. We urgently need to solve this problem.

During my field season I will be heading out on the water to look at where the blue whales are and, more importantly, where they overlap with the ships. This will help me understand where they are at highest risk, and enable me to come up with some realistic ways of reducing whale mortality.

I’ll also be taking photographs of all the whales we see, which will be added into our existing Sri Lankan Blue Whale Photo-identification catalog. Photo-identification is a low-cost technique used to identify individuals in the population. It’s commonly used for a lot of species. All you need is a decent DSLR that enables you to take photos of characteristic permanent marking patterns on specific parts of the whale’s body. This can be used to identify an individual because, like our thumbprints, the markings are unique to each animal.

This data will allow us to come up with an estimate of population size for these whales — an essential ingredient for answering a suite of other questions about them, including how threatened this non-migratory population is, and how we can help one of the least-studied and most unorthodox populations of blue whales in the world.

Whale poo is an essential part of the ocean ecosystem's nutrient cycle. Photo: Asha de Vos

Whale poo is an essential part of the ocean ecosystem’s nutrient cycle. Photo: Asha de Vos

Why do you care about these whales so much?

Everyone should care about whales because they are really important for nutrient cycling in the oceans. Their poo holds vital nutrients that enable the growth of plankton (some of which produces the oxygen we breathe!) and their carcasses remove excess carbon in the atmosphere by taking it to the depths of the ocean. So whales potentially play a role in reducing climate change. Saving blue whales in Sri Lanka isn’t just good for Sri Lankans, but is important for a healthier planet overall!

To be honest, all of us are to blame every time a whale gets killed by a ship. Ninety percent of everything is shipped, and the industry is driven by human need and greed. So we should care about resolving this problem, too.

Why did you choose OpenExplorer to fund this expedition?

I chose OpenExplorer because it primarily acts as an expedition field journal, which allows people to follow me from inception to completion of a particular mission. I’m curious about using this function during my field season to see how it works and what its reach and interactivity will be compared to my blog. I think it might be a cool way for more people to feel they are part of my day-to-day experiences. Apart from that, it enables people to contribute funds to the expedition at any time, so it’s not designed for just front-end funding, like a lot of other platforms. It seems like a great way for people to follow, get excited, fund, watch, interact and feel like they are part of the expedition from start to finish.

I believe crowdfunding will become an increasingly important source of money for people like myself. Many of us from small developing nations don’t have access to research funds because the vast majority of the larger grants are provided by developed countries for research in their own waters. In my case, the sad reality is that Sri Lanka is one of the 40 worst-funded countries for conservation research. I get no internal financial support but have raise all my funds from outside. Given that blue whales are important for the global ocean ecosystem, I feel crowdfunding is a neat way for people from all over the world to get involved..

Photo: Erik Olsen/NYT

Photo: Erik Olsen/NYT

Do you need to raise this money before you go on the expedition itself, or are you hoping the campaign will sustain you as you go?

In the grand scheme of things, I would like to raise money for the longer term to create sustainability for this research. But right now, I am only fundraising for this initial trip. The costs are pretty high because boat time is always expensive. The other issue for me is safety. I have spent many hours far out at sea, on 6-meter boats with a single engine and no safety equipment, puttering around between the biggest container ships you can imagine. I would really like to raise enough money to pay for a safer platform – for my mother’s sake! So if you can help me fundraise $20,000, then I can collect data while reducing the risk of getting run over by ships. Any extra money I raise will go towards buying actual safety equipment like flares, an EPIRB and walkie-talkies, and saving for the next field season!

Is it true that we can get the opportunity to name a whale?

Sure thing! For $500 you can adopt a blue whale and help us name it! I will send you a photo of the individual you adopted, along with details of where and when it was sighted. These are limited edition, though because it’s limited by the number of whales we see. The more days I spend on the water, the more whales I photograph and the more there are to name – so help me stay out there! There are also a bunch of other gifts to reward different levels of donations here.

To donate to de Vos’s Save the Blue Whale expedition, visit her page on Open Explorer.

Above, watch Asha de Vos’s video about her passion for the Sri Lankan blue whale.

Pimp my … trash cart? Watch Mundano’s TEDGlobal 2014 talk

Graffiti artist and TED Fellow Mundano describes his project “Pimp My Carroça,” in which he transforms the trash carts of Brazil’s rubbish pickers into works of art – while providing them with essential services and public recognition. Watch this talk, then read about how Mundano made a statement with election-waste art on the eve of this talk at TEDGlobal 2014!

 

 

Eye phone: How a TED Fellow’s new app could help restore sight to millions

Andrew Bastawrous shares the idea behind Peek at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Andrew Bastawrous shares the idea behind Peek at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Around 39 million people in the world are affected by blindness — 80% of which could be avoided if people had timely access to diagnosis and proper treatment. The problem is that in many developing countries, most eye care providers are in cities, while the majority of patients live in hard-to-reach rural areas. To bridge this gap, London-based opthalmologist Andrew Bastawrous created Peek — an app and adapter that turn a smartphone into a comprehensive, easy-to-use, accurate eye-exam tool. Peek makes eye tests affordable and easy to administer, bypassing the need for expensive, fragile equipment. (Watch his TED Talk, “Get your next eye exam on a smartphone.”)

Bastawrous developed and extensively road-tested Peek during a research expedition in Kenya, and has now launched an Indiegogo campaign to set up manufacturing process for the Peek Retina adapter, which allows health workers to peer into the eye and capture images for diagnosis. If successful, Peek will soon be rolled out worldwide with the help of eye NGOs. Here, he tells the TED Blog how his own childhood experiences with poverty, inequality and impaired vision led him to devote his life to restoring sight to the world.

How long has Peek been in development?

I’ve been working on it for around three years, and the team came together about two years ago. We’re now at the point where we’ve got a proven, tested prototype, and we want to make it available. We’ve had so much demand — over 4,000 eye organizations in 180 countries are asking to use it, and we want to make it available and keep the cost low. We evaluated options, and recently won the TED Mazda Rebels award. We’ve used the majority of that to fund set-up of the manufacturing pipeline to develop the adapter, and that takes us to about the halfway point.

You grew up in England. What made you want to practice in developing countries?

I was born in York, but my parents are both from Egypt, and I grew up between cultures. We spent most of our holidays in Egypt, and I always felt a little like I didn’t know where home was. When I visited Egypt, I witnessed things I didn’t see in the UK. My father’s a doctor, and he’d always visit the village where he grew up whenever we went back. He would be inundated with requests for medical attention.

It really inspired me, the way he never said no to anyone. Once a woman complained to him that she couldn’t have a child. My father, who is actually a bone doctor, did some general blood tests, and said, “Look, as far as I can see, everything’s okay.” When we went back the following year, she had a child with her — and everyone else in the region who couldn’t have babies started coming to see my dad to get it sorted out.

So I think seeing such things left me with a very deep sense of inequality. I also realized I’d had a very privileged upbringing. Within Egypt, my relatives are quite well off. But my grandma lived on the first floor, and the family that lived on the basement floor were effectively working for the apartment block. There was a kid there the same age as me, and every year we’d diverge more in terms of our opportunities. When we first met, we both just wanted to play football, but by the time we were 18, he’d had a kid, and his opportunities were very limited. Meanwhile, I had so many fantastic options for my university, career. It just seemed deeply unfair.

A Peek healthcare worker examines patient in her own home. Photo: Courtesy of Peek

A Peek healthcare worker examines patient in her own home. Photo: Courtesy of Peek

But why eye care?

I grew up very short-sighted. I was at the bottom of my class until I was about 12, when my mum dragged me kicking and screaming to the optician’s and insisted I get some glasses. Suddenly I could suddenly see everything perfectly — and I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten that moment. So I’ve always been struck with the power of being able to have sight returned, the impact it can have. After that, I started to do well at school, and was better at sport. I looked a bit more geeky, but I was doing better in a lot of other ways.

So it had always been in my mind at medical school to go into ophthalmology. I spent my summer holidays traveling, visiting people who were doing eye care in resource-poor settings, and just really fell in love with the possibilities. There are so many people who are unnecessarily blind. Had they been living in the UK, they would have never have gotten to the point where their vision problems were anything more than a nuisance. I knew this would be how I’d spend my life.

Untreated eye disease must be a problem in many developing countries. Why did you choose to focus on Kenya?

I’d worked in various countries short term, from Uganda, Sierra Leone and Madagascar to Peru and Belize. I then got the opportunity to work at the International Center for Eye Health on a PhD program. We were to do a large trial in Kenya, for which we’d be required to take lots of expensive equipment to 100 different locations to try and work out why people were going blind. I was excited because I knew this research would result in change, as opposed to only lead to papers and publications.

The most common causes of blindness are the same everywhere in the world — with cataract the top cause. In developing countries, blindness is an issue of access to healthcare, not usually a result of weird and wonderful tropical diseases, although there are certain infectious diseases that are more prevalent in Africa.

To read the full article, visit the TED Blog >>>

Sparks, spies and space: 12 surefire holiday gift ideas from the TED Fellows

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and still looking for stocking stuffers? In the nick of time, we’ve rounded up a dozen charming and original offerings, sure to delight your hardest-to-please people. There’s something for everyone — fine-art photographs, rugged mobile wifi gear, plenty of world-class, cutting-edge music, games, sweetly satiric tees, a chance to save blue whales, and much more. Happy holidays from the TED Fellows!

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1. The gift: Fine-art photographs of faraway ruins
Perfect for: The armchair adventurer
Spanish artist Jorge Manes Rubio seeks out the world’s abandoned places and creates art that memorializes them. His project Buona Fortuna, for example, celebrates the lost churches in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento in the south of Italy, abandoned after a series of devastating earthquakes and landslides decades ago. Rubio is working to make these beautiful ruins safe and reopen them to the public in 2015. And to fund the project, he is selling limited edition, large-format color photographic prints of the sites.
Get it: Order directly from the artist (Between €1500 and €3000, depending on size and frame choice)

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2. The gift: Sunken Cathedral
Perfect for: The vinyl fetishist
Bora Yoon’s epic sonic odyssey Sunken Cathedral is a multimedia treasure-trove ready to be explored. The album can be experienced as a CD, as a 12-inch, two-disc limited edition blood-red vinyl LP, and as an interactive app. Seven years in the making, Yoon’s project is on the first-round ballot for the Grammys — including best classical solo vocal, and best-engineered classical album of the year.
Get it: Order it from the artist. ($12-$35)

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3. The gift: Nikko & the Spark
Perfect for: The kids
Energy-efficiency entrepreneur Jen Indovina moonlights as an app-creator for kids, making engaging with science history and concepts exciting and fun. Her interactive storybook app Nikko & the Spark introduces young people to electrical energy via a story of a child inventor, based on the life of inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur Nikola Tesla. Once the story’s over, you can dive into action with selected labs and interactive games based on Tesla’s work in electrical engineering.
Get it: Download from Play and iTunes ($2 – a steal!)

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4. The gift: Existential casual wear
Perfect for: The romantically world-weary
Designer Safwat Saleem’s world is populated by the characters who are fed up with bullshit — but in the funniest and sweetest possible way. “Coupled” is a series of designs depicting somewhat complex relationships between random objects. We love this one of two people floating off into space. And it’s available in a variety of colors and sizes.
Get it: Order through Safwat Saleem’s shop at Society6 ($22), and while you’re at it browse a huge selection of his greeting cards, mugs, prints and pillows!

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5. The gift: Animal Madness
Perfect for: Cat people (and dog people, and donkey people, etc.)
Part-memoir, part history, part research adventure, Laurel Braitman’s book delves into the wild world of animal psychology. From depressed and anxious dogs and cats to traumatized elephants, distressed zoo animals and beyond, Braitman not only sheds light on animals’ emotional responses and coping mechanisms, but reflects on what they tell us about human mental health.
Get it: Order from Amazon ($19)

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6. The gift: BRCK
Perfect for: The road warrior
When the folks at Ushahidi get fed up with unreliable power and internet infrastructure in Nairobi, they responded by creating BRCK: a rugged, rechargeable, mobile wifi device with a battery that lasts up to 12 hours and can be shared with 20 people. BRCK is currently taking the device to rural schools in Kenya to give kids access to the internet. But the ultraportable BRCK is equally good for anyone who needs to stay connected in remote areas.
Get it: Order from BRCK ($199)

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7. The gift: Lonesome Roads
Perfect for: New-school classical music fans
Dan Visconti is breaking new ground as a 21st-century composer who uses classical music as a tool for social justice and community interaction. Lonesome Roads is the first full-length album of his works, a blend of American folk and pop and classical avant-garde — recorded by members of the world-class Berlin Philharmonic and the Horszowski Trio. One reviewer calls it “just plain rapturous.”
Get it: Order from Amazon ($17)

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8. The gift: So the Arrow Flies
Perfect for:
The politically intrigued
Actor and writer Esther Chae’s So the Arrow Flies is a political thriller about an alleged North Korean spy and the FBI agent who interrogates her. Written and performed as a solo piece by Chae, the play explores complex political and social issues, including America’s national security apparatus, global identity and gender roles. This volume contains both the English language script and its Korean language translation.
Get it: Order it through Amazon ($10)

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9. The gift: Ouya
Perfect for: The gamer
Award-winning game creator Kellee Santiago left thatgamecompany to throw her weight behind Ouya, an Android-powered wireless console and controller that you can plug directly into your TV. The huge variety of games available — shooters, RPGs, action games, and so on — are downloaded directly to the console, and are free to try before you buy. You can also use Ouya to stream music and video, and surf the Web.
Get it: Order it from Target ($90)

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10. The gift: We Are Alive
Perfect for:
 World-music lovers
Ethiopian American singer and cultural activist Meklit Hadero’s music is imbued with poetry and multiplicity. Her hybrid sound draws from her Ethiopian heritage, jazz, folk songs, hip-hop and art rock, soulfully and intimately bridging frontiers between language, tribes and disciplines. (Check out the title track on YouTube!)
Get it: Order it from the artist ($10)

Photo: Erik Olsen/NYTPhoto: Erik Olsen/NYT

11. The gift: Saving blue whales
Perfect for:
 Animal lovers, conservationists
Sri Lankan marine biologist Asha de Vos is setting sail for her native waters to undertake crucial research to prevent blue whales getting killed by ships. To fund her journey, she has launched a campaign on Fellow David Lang’s new science-funding platform Open Explorer, where supporters can follow her adventures. Fund her research in the name of your recipient, and they may get the chance to name one of these endangered giants!
Get it: Visit de Vos’s page on Open Explorer to donate

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12. The charitable contribution: Embrace Baby Warmer
Perfect for:
Those with hearts of gold
Every year, millions of infants around the world die due to conditions related to premature birth and low birth weight — including hypothermia. This is especially a problem in developing countries, where families have little access to hospitals and incubators. In response, Jane Chen created the Embrace baby warmer — a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use, sleeping bag–style infant warmer designed to regulate the temperatures of infants, without the need for a power supply. Embrace has already reached 144,000 infants in 105 countries, but needs help to continue rolling out its life-saving work. Bonus: donations received by December 31, 2014, will be matched by the Peery Foundation.
Where to donate: Visit Embrace to read about the program and to make a holiday donation.

 

TED Fellow organizes blood donations for victims of the Peshawar tragedy

Image by TED Fellow Usman Riaz. "No one should be made to suffer, especially innocent children."

Image by TED Fellow Usman Riaz. “No one should be made to suffer, especially innocent children.”

As the world comes to terms with the horror of Tuesday’s school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, health care workers are tending to the scores of wounded survivors. Pakistani tech entrepreneur and TED Fellow Faisal Chohan and his team at BrightSypre have responded by creating a Web-based app to connect potential blood donors with hospitals and health care organizations.

“The scale of the Peshawar tragedy is huge,” he says. “Everyone in Peshawar is directly affected. Masses of people are gathering outside hospitals and blood banks offering to donate blood to the victims, but they are being turned away because of lack of capacity.”

If you are in Pakistan and wish to donate blood, Chohan asks that you visit the Web app and enter your name, contact details and blood type. BrightSpyre is currently working to forward this information to hospitals and blood banks, so that donations can be collected as and when needed.