If necessity is the mother of invention (and I’m not suggesting for a moment that she isn’t) then to see cutting edge invention you need to look where life is hard, resources are few and problems are huge. That’s where you see human ingenuity at its finest, where imagination and pragmatism create brilliant solutions that are fast, cheap and elegant.

For example, the fancy medical technology we develop in the West just doesn’t work in developing countries; less than 10% of hospitals can afford that kind of equipment and 95% of what gear they do have is inoperative within five years. Then again, most of the world’s sick people are over a day’s walk from electricity, let alone a hospital.

So a simple ElectroCardioGram machine, (about the size of a small photocopier, weighing 90kgs and costing $50,000) is just not simple enough for most of the people who need one. Naturally, the corporations that build these sophisticated machines appreciate the problem but it’s hard to see how to make the technology much smaller, lighter, cheaper or simpler. That’s why a group of medical technicians working for GE Healthcare in Bangalore decided to start from scratch, with a whole new set of performance specs.

Their population needed a machine that could be carried into remote regions, operate under its own power, cost no more than a grand and produce a world-class ECG reading for a dollar. The final product (the ‘Mac 400’) was conceived, designed, developed and manufactured in India and is now being sold in 150 countries (including the rich ones) and GE China is following the Indian example to slash the cost of X-ray, ultrasound and MRIs.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a non-profit design firm called Design that Matters brings together hundreds of volunteers from academia and industry to create similar breakthrough products for communities in need.

Together they created the NeoNurture, a neo-natal incubator that is 40x cheaper than the standard models, as all its critical components are ordinary, car-industry issue; the initial prototype was built completely from parts salvaged from an old Toyota 4Runner Ute.

It uses headlights as warmers, a cabin fan for ventilation, dash lights and door chimes for alerts and the cigarette lighter as back-up power source. As one of the key designers put it ‘There are 40,000 parts in a car… we just removed all the ones that didn’t look like an incubator until we had an incubator.’

McGyver would be proud.




Avatar photo

Written by Jason Clarke

Twitter LinkedIn

Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.