From creating cars that communicate with each other, to helping kids write their own books, to improvising medical devices worthy of MacGyver, these six innovators promise to change the way we live
Author TOM SAMILJAN
For most tinkerers, the do-it-yourself model is useful for everything from home renovations and custom computers to tricked-out cars and Lego sculptures. For Jose Gomez-Marquez, a 2011 TED fellow and program director of MIT’s Innovations in International Health lab, the DIY ethos is something to apply toward inexpensive medical solutions — an inhalable measles vaccine, a bike pump-powered nebulizer for asthma patients — that can save lives in developing countries.
According to conventional wisdom, anything used by doctors requires years of development and sackfuls of money before it can be put into the field. But where third-world regions are concerned, all that cost and process can prove prohibitive. “Ninety-five percent of the medical devices sent to the developing world break,” says Gomez-Marquez. “And sometimes they get fixed and sometimes they don’t.” If a medical centrifuge fails and doesn’t get repaired, then tests for, say, malnutrition-induced anemia won’t happen — which is when something like Gomez-Marquez’s manual toilet-plunger-with-tubes centrifuge comes in handy.
Gomez-Marquez knows from experience. Growing up in Honduras, where many of his family members were doctors, he spent a lot of time in hospitals and not only saw their machines breaking down, but also witnessed the impromptu solutions devised by medical staff. “In the developing world, you’ll find a team of ‘MacGyver’ doctors,” says Gomez-Marquez, “but they’ll never tell you about these rubber-band solutions, because they’re embarrassed about them.” Gomez-Marquez’s latest project is, fittingly, a toolkit that can be used by medical personnel to create makeshift equipment — kind of an Erector set for medical devices.
Of course, Gomez-Marquez admits, there are some areas where makeshift won’t do the trick. At least not yet. “We’re not anywhere close to doing any kind of implantable thing, like a DIY pacemaker,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a boatload of medical devices still waiting for simple solutions.”
JOSE GOMEZ-MARQUEZ / AGE 35 / FROM TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS / LIVES IN BOSTON / PREVIOUS GIG INVESTMENT MARKETER AT INVESCO INSTITUTIONAL