Let me introduce you to my friend Nithya Ramanathan. Nithya teaches Computer Science at UCLA. A few years ago Nithya started to fixate on a problem which affects millions of people, mostly children, worldwide: Spoiled vaccines.
Most vaccines require proper cooling and handling on their journey from point of production to consumption. They need to be kept at a specific temperature without too much variance. This logistic chain is called the cold chain. And 75% of vaccines in the developing world show signs of freezing, with an estimated one-fourth to one-third of all vaccines which are administered being ineffective.
Nithya, together with a small team, developed an Internet-connected temperature sensor which travels with the vaccine fridge through the cold chain. Constantly measuring the temperature and sending information about irregularities to both the nurse and doctor who are administering the vaccine as well as a cloud-based software, Nithya’s device provides, for the first time, real-time insights not only into the status of an individual batch of vaccines but also an aggregated view into where the problems typically occurs.
The device is now used in six countries; in 3 states in India alone there are now 11,000 devices in the field, saving the lives of millions of babies each year. And trust me — Nithya has barely just begun.
The remarkable thing about Nithya‘s solution is that her device is incredibly simple: By leveraging a readily available “exponential” technology — a cheap, $30, Chinese-manufactured Android smartphone combined with a tiny bit of simple, custom hardware, a temperature sensor and a bit of software, Nithya’s team built the most successful intervention in the field today.
Here’s the reason why I am telling you all this: Everybody can do this. Everybody can be Nithya, get up, assemble a small team, pick a big, hairy problem and tackle it. Even if are not a software developer, hardware hacker or bio engineer — I am confident that you know people who are.
We all can change the world for the better.