Last June, the folks from Make: television teamed up with the Lemelson-MIT Program to capture stories from young inventors at the 2009 Eurekafest. We wanted to find out what inspires young people to invent, what the invention process taught them, and what problems they were trying to solve in the world.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of the videos we made and give props to some smart and creative students from all over the country.
First up, the Teen Technology InvenTeam, from Bridgewater, New Jersey, discovered a need to help African communities with their sorghum production. After a few wrong turns, they eventually settled on a creative and effective design using a pedal-powered thresher.
More about InvenTeams
2 thoughts on “Pedal Thresher from L-MIT’s InvenTeams”
Before I get to my real comment, let me preface this by saying that I support this program and these kids 100%. I think the whole idea of the program is awesome, that they’re showing some fantastic initiative, that it’s amazing they’ve decided to apply their (obviously impressive) intellect to helping less well-off people with a technological solution, and that they’ve clearly given some thought to how this technology might be used by the people they’ve designed it for. Congratulations, all of you, and I hope your design really makes a difference.
Second, it was a problem when I got my last degree, and I think it’s a problem will intermediate and appropriate technologies (which this is an example of, try Wikipedia for a description of what this is) in general, and it is this: reinventing the wheel. See, these kids may have developed a unique implementation, but to truly call this idea “new” is not totally accurate. For instance, I have a PDF from VITA’s Appropriate Technology library in front of me that describes a similar pedal thresher, and here’s a link to a PDF describing another sorghum pedal powered thresher: http://www.fastonline.org/CD3WD_40/CD3WD/APPRTECH/THRESHER/EN/INDEX.HTM . And I’m sure there are many others.
(Let me clarify that I am in now way, shape, or form accusing these kids of plagiarism or intellectual thievery. I am completely confident that they arrived at their design by their own devices. )
However, I do think it does the human race a bit of a disservice to not point out that threshing is a pretty dog gone old process, and some form of mechanization of the process is fairly old news as well, whether pedal powered or not. Further, simply because this design works well and is (hopefully, though from the look of it possibly doubtfully) reproducible by the impoverished people they want to help using local materials, processes, and budgets, it does not mean it will really provide the positive change these kids happily want to make.
For that to happen, it seems to me that the program that supported and helped these kids should be transferred to the kids in the neighborhoods where this device would actually be used (Think ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,’ which I believe has been featured here).
Again, I am pumped by the very existence of kids like these, and am thrilled that they decided to spend time, money, materials, and energy on this idea, but appropriate technologists have been putting out pamphlets and designing threshers and grinders and cultivators and pumps and shredders for 50 years now, and they only times they really affect people is when the affected people themselves are involved in the design and construction.
So, kids, good luck with your work; I wish you the best. If you believe in your design, take it to Africa, and find a way to bring other people into your work instead of pushing your work onto the people.
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