Skip to Content

Remote Technology

The light and dark sides of mechanical aptitude as applied to technological aid efforts.
September 23, 2008

Amy Mueller, director of STG International, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide decentralized solar power and heat to places that lack central infrastructure, described some of the paradoxes of attempting to deploy the systems in the Social Entrepreneurship panel today at EmTech.

The group tries to design with off-the-shelf parts, mostly automotive, Mueller says, in order to lower the cost of the systems they build. One benefit, she says, is that local people will have the context they need to understand how to fix and maintain the systems on their own. Automotive technology has reached the most remote places, she says. For example, her group was driving through a remote part of Lesotho, a tiny African nation surrounded by South Africa, when the transmission failed on their vehicle. Three local men replaced it for them in a matter of days, transforming it in the process from an automatic transmission to manual. These existing skills could help other technologies take hold in the area as well, Mueller says.

But STG also encountered the dark side of that mechanical facility after deploying a hot-water system in a small village in Lesotho. Four to five months after they left, Mueller says, the system broke down after people scavenged it for parts. When the group returned, they were greeted by local women begging them to fix the system. Mueller thinks this situation indicates the importance of providing technologies that have clear value to everyone in the community. In this case, she suggests, the women of the village saw a clear benefit – their daily work was made much easier by the availability of hot water. Others in the village, however, may have seen the technology as more valuable for its parts than for its whole effect.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why.

And that's a problem. Figuring it out is one of the biggest scientific puzzles of our time and a crucial step towards controlling more powerful future models.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario–like games from scratch

Genie learns how to control games by watching hours and hours of video. It could help train next-gen robots too.

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.