Designing a better world, by Richard Goering

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Engineering at its best is about solving problems, not just cramming more megabytes onto a bus. And one place that’s crying out for solutions is the Third World. Can the problems there be met by interesting engineering solutions that lead to sustainable businesses?

Increasingly, corporations and academics are saying yes. February brought news of ultralow-cost PCs in the works from the likes of AMD, HP and Via Technologies. The idea is to wire up the developing world with low-cost computers.

More recently, Inktomi founder Eric Brewer discussed the Information and Communication Technology for Billions (ICT4B) project at the University of California at Berkeley, where he’s a professor of computer science. ICT4B seeks to develop and deploy technology for Third World conditions, where connectivity is limited and power unreliable. Its goal is to create sustainable businesses.

Brewer has examples of how technology can make a big difference in developing regions. In Tanzania, the child mortality rate was cut in half by using computers to track diseases. In West Africa, a sensor network that figured out where to spray larva sites for black flies helped free up enough farmland to feed 17 million people. In Tamil Nadu state in India, the ICT4B project is working to deploy enough wireless kiosks so that everyone is within 20km of a rural health center.
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Source: Electronic Engineering Times