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To win the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Innovation Showcase–a social purpose technology contest–it takes more than a good idea. And it takes more than a mobile app of questionable real-world usefulness. The three winning teams, which you will learn more about below, developed their hardware projects over several years and many iterations. They’re all now approaching feasibility, with reasonable business models, having taken account of local conditions, and even manufacturing and legal questions. Frothy apps these are not.
ASME is all about hardware, and it expects its innovators to be serious about it.
“You can’t have impact unless you have a scalable business model and can actually reach people in a sustainable way from a finance perspective,” says Paul Scott, the showcase’s director. “We’re not focusing on sexy ideas that get a lot of [publicity], that are feel-good type ventures, that have a little chance of getting to market. We’re trying to drill down beyond the prototype, even to the manufacturing and tax implications.”
The BioLite HomeStove reduces home smoke emissions by up to 90% and requires 50% less fuel than open cooking, according to the startup. The emissions reduction is key: Smoke in the home contributes to up to 4 million deaths worldwide a year. At the same time, the HomeStove also generates electricity for charging mobile phones and lights.
The EV8, from the Evaptainers team, is a lightweight, collapsible cooling chest that needs no power. It’s designed to extend the life of vegetables and fruits and uses the magic of “evaporative cooling,” updating an ancient produce-maximizing technique with modern technology.
While Evaptainers is extending the power of cooling, PlenOptika is transforming affordable eyesight exams. Its QuickSee device is shaped like a pair of binoculars. Looking inside and wearing a chin strap, users line up their eyes with a screen. Then, using a technique developed for pre-exams for Lasik surgery, the QuickSee maps the eyes for irregularities.