The simplest machines, the smartest people

I wrote about a lot of students and their work in my years as an education reporter. The kids that stand out, though, are the ones that used their brilliance to find simple solutions to basic problems in developing countries.

I remember Patrick Delaney, a University of Minnesota electrical engineering student, who helped design low-cost, easy-to-use solar powered lanterns that brought light to remote regions of Nicaragua and could be built there.

I was thinking about Delaney and those other students as I read about the GiraDora, a simple, foot-powered clothes washer / dryer created by a couple of design students from Los Angeles that’s making life easier for people in poverty-ridden areas of Peru.

It’s built to meet the needs of people living on $4 to $10 a day and remedy problems tied to hand washing, including back pain and respiratory problems like asthma tied to mold.

“So much time, energy, and resources are used for basic water chores like cooking and cleaning,” one of the students tells the web site Fast Company.

It leaves little time for other activities that might help one get out of poverty.” In particular, washing clothes is a major timesuck–it can eat up as much as six hours a day. There are major physical challenges involved with doing a simple load of laundry, too: lugging heavy buckets of water from a clean site, for example, or finding a way to dry the clothes before they get moldy.

The result is a simple machine that transforms lives.

The designers tell Fast Company the goal is to have 150,000 users over the next five years. Interestingly, their measure of success? When people don’t need their product anymore because they’ve moved up the economic ladder.

Like the U’s Delaney, these guys went to poverty ridden areas of the world, asked the people what they needed, and delivered in a way that will last beyond them. Pretty smart.

— Paul Tosto