Originally published on Epolitics.com
Here in the Delany family, we're generally not ones to think small -- and my father is the prime example. An inveterate inventor who couldn't stop playing with ideas if he tried, he's come up with some fascinating tools that might change the way people live in impoverished areas across the globe. How? By coming up with simple technologies they can use to make and repair everything from pots and pans to agricultural equipment, built with materials common around the world. The essential parts can come from junked cars and trucks, for instance, which are lying around just about everywhere. Plus, one branch of this mechanical family tree can also help power a village, charging cell phones and letting students study after dark by the light of LED bulbs.
Why take this project on? Because the ability to manufacture and repair machinery is one crucial handicap of most Third World economies -- for instance, you can help people drill water wells all day long, but if there's no mechanical infrastructure in place to repair it, they're still helpless when the pump breaks (the parts are likely a continent or two away, which usually means that they might as well be on the moon).
Perhaps more importantly, these tools also teach skills, since you start with the plans and construct the machines themselves using local materials -- and once you've done that, you're on your way to being able to build anything up to and including a battleship. Note that in some cases this project revives mechanical techniques that have been forgotten for a century or two but that are perfect for areas short on resources other than human hands and brains.
But don't take my word for it; go through the slideshow below, which was prepared for Maker Faire Africa and which describes four the four core interrelated machines, which can be used in everything from a village blacksmithy to a full-scale factory or trade school. The best part? Dad's giving them away -- this is an entirely open-source project. The problem? Getting people in the NGO/development community to even understand what a machine tool is and why one would be valuable. If you can help spread the word, please do! His contact info and links to more information are in the slideshow, so please check it out.
Presentation updated and improved Aug. 30, 2010