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

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

pig kidney transplant surgery
pig kidney transplant surgery

Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient

The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration 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.