Ockham’s Razor is a scientific principle that is often paraphrased as “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.” Today this principle is often taken as a rule of thumb that advises economy or simplicity, especially in scientific theories. This summer, masons and mechanics, farmers and welders, scientists and a pastor dedicated themselves to the theory of Ockham’s Razor as they brainstormed methods to create low-tech solutions to big problems that persist across the globe.
Converging at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the three-week long International Development Design Summit, these 61 inventors from 20 countries divided into ten teams that worked round-the-clock to develop and build prototypes of low-tech device designed to make life a little easier for the poor peoples of the world. Prototypes ranged from an inexpensive incubator for low-birth-weight babies to a rope system that could help craftswomen in the Himalayas get their products to market, but in my opinion, the two most interesting inventions to emerge from this yearâ€™s summit are a low-cost charcoal crusher and a scheme to produce electrical power with incidental effort as people go about their everyday tasks.
I was personally made aware of the need for a charcoal crusher when I visited Tanzania last year. My safari driver stopped one day to buy charcoal for his family’s cooking needs. The whole affair seemed cloaked in secrecy; the bags were nowhere to be seen upon arriving at the store and my diver disappeared into a back room to negotiate for the purchase. Finally, a tall young man emerged from around the rear of the store, toting an enormous sack, which was Continue reading