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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The next frontier? MARS

Every night while he was away, Jerry Linenger would curl up in a corner of the ceiling and read a page or two of the journals of doomed Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton – for comfort, of all things – as the Earth drifted lazily by, far, far below.

"Their ship was crushed by the ice," Linenger says. "They had to hunt walrus to survive the winter before months of darkness set in. I'd read that and when I closed it, I would think, `It's not so bad up here.'"

Zero gravity can offer these unlikely opportunities for repose – not to mention a unique sense of perspective. For five months on the International Space Station, Linenger, an American astronaut crewing with two Russians, took solace where he could.

"I've been on submarines in the Indian Ocean, in the middle of nowhere, and it was nothing, compared to this," he says. "It was a sense of being completely dislocated from humankind, and that is a profoundly different kind of isolation."

That was five months. Can you imagine two years?

That's the best guess for a manned mission to Mars: Nine months' travel each way, with a shortcut across the orbit of Venus along the way. Depending on how long you stick around, even a brief – say, two-month – visit puts you four months shy of two years – two years off the Earth in that "complete dislocation from humankind" of which Linenger speaks.

This is not idle chatter. For all the financial stresses such a mission would entail – in 1989 NASA offered a catastrophic estimate of $400 billion, causing the hypothetical program to be scrapped; more recently, a highly optimistic $30 billion by some independent Mars advocacy groups, while in 2004, President George W. Bush said it would be $40 billion to $80 billion – this is entirely possible.

In other words, while the "if" and "when" of the mission are speculative at best – Bush's 2004 address famously recommended, not committed to, a Mars mission – we've done a remarkably good job of the "how."

Make no mistake. NASA, the Russians, and very quickly, the Chinese, likely have the technological know-how to do this right now. ("Getting people up there is quite possible. Getting them back is the hard part," says York University professor Peter Taylor, who worked on Phoenix, NASA's robotic mission to Mars currently en route. "I wouldn't want to be on the first trip.")

Starting tonight, the Discovery Channel will be airing a multi-part series called The Race to Mars that, in its exhaustive, comprehensive dramatization of an eventual Mars mission, pushes that disturbing detail aside for the sake of the argument.

And the argument – do we need to send humans to Mars? – is among the most profound we face today. Which is to say, among the ifs, whens and hows, perhaps the most compelling question, simply, is why. And there is no end to the answers that flow from anyone – astronauts, scientists, enthusiasts – you care to ask.

But the most riveting among them, perhaps, has nothing to do with science at all.

"The question I ask is, do human beings exist to strive, or to simply relax?" says Robert Zubrin, an aerospace engineer and the director of the independent Mars advocacy and research group, the Mars Society.

"Are we here to try to do great things that have never been done, to advance the frontiers of human possibility, or are we here to simply enjoy the fruits of others who have thought that way?"

In his recent book Moon Dust, the British journalist Andre Wright set out to interview the surviving astronauts of the Apollo missions to the moon, all now well into their 70s.

He was struck by the fact that, in a decade or less, there could well be no one left alive who knew what it was to stand with ground under their feet not of this Earth and stare back at the big blue ball they called home.

It led Wright to describe the Apollo missions as the last optimistic act of humankind – a mission executed not for military or commercial purposes, or any other reason than it challenged the limits of human innovation and ambition. It embodied the spirit, simply, that anything was possible.

At NASA and other governmental space agencies, at least, that spirit has been on the wane for decades. "For the past thirty years, they've been going up and down to orbit, and carrying on for the sake of carrying on," Zubrin says.

When the space shuttle Columbia evaporated on re-entry in 2003, it sent NASA into deep self-examination. A presidential commission on the disaster came back with an indictment of the program as lacking direction and purpose.

"Essentially, they said, `If you're going to assume the costs and risks of human space flight, you need to have goals that are worthy of those costs and risks,'" Zubrin says.

NASA consulted widely to determine a goal; Zubrin's group was among the consultations. In the end, they came up with that goal: Until 2010, it's shuttle and station. And then – on to the moon, and Mars.

But there's that political will issue again. Bush passed the buck to the next administration, which, when elected, will have to decide whether an investment of potentially more than $100 billion in a Mars mission is the right choice in a nation in deep economic stagger and bleeding badly in all respects from a prolonged war in Iraq.

But then, there's that which is priceless. When John F. Kennedy committed (not "recommended") to have a manned mission to the moon, it was a source of global inspiration – achievement for its own sake.

"It created that optimisitc attitude that anything is possible – that the world does not have to be as it always has been, and change is possible," Zubrin says. "It was a banner of progress and human possibility to embrace this goal."

Let us not forget the science. Zubrin's group has conducted 72 earthbound "Martian missions," in the Canadian Arctic and the Utah desert, simulating Martian living conditions and field work. The rehearsals are taken seriously, with participation from NASA and universities around the world.

Since 1964, when NASA's Mariner 4 executed the first successful flyby of the red planet, we've been to Mars a couple of dozen times, either probes on the surface or satellites in orbit, either Russian, American, Japanese or British. But we've never been there.

"Every time we go there, it's to answer a question. And inevitably, every question brings forward 10 more," said Alain Berinstain, the director of the planetary exploration program at the Canadian Space Agency. "That's why we're going to send humans to Mars: Because we can't answer all these questions robotically."

These are big ones. "Are we alone in the universe?" says Brendan Quine, the director of space engineering at York University, the country's primary research facility into Martian exploration. "These are profound questions that have far-reaching consequences."

Quine is associated with a unit called Northern Light, a joint venture between the school and Thoth Technologies, a Canadian aerospace firm. They're exploring privately funded space exploration (they hope to launch their own, private Martian probe in 2009, for a fraction of the cost of NASA's $350 million Phoenix mission).

One of Northern Light's objectives is to search for life. (Phoenix, which for the first time ever will sample some of the planet's icy ground, may beat them to it, though it's not one of the mission's stated goals.)

Key to this, of course, is water – something most believe the planet has in abundance in some form below its dusty ochre surface (the daytime temperature at the Martian equator is 20 degrees Celsius, but drops to —80 at night, so it's likely ice).

A thick band of hydrogen around the equator indicates water in some form. "We think there are very large reserves of water on Mars, actually," Quine says.

"There are clear coastlines – multiple coastlines, actually. You can't say they are until we test them, but they appear to be coastlines. In fact, we think that if we melted all the waters on Mars, we would flood the ocean basins to a depth of 500 metres. Then you've got a planet a lot like Earth."

Not that this is possible, of course. "But maybe there are ways, without substantially damaging the ecosystem, to bring Mars alive again."

Ecosystem. Again. Which assumes there is an ecosystem, and that there was one before. Strictly theory, of course, but a good one, suggests the impact of a massive meteorite, 20 kilometres wide, which hit Mars at a speed of 20 kilometres a second (its impact zone is the massive Hellas Crater, 2,100 kilometres wide). In theory, the impact would have thrown up millions of tonnes of debris, forcing the planet to heat up dramatically and the atmosphere to escape.

More theory: The thin Martian atmosphere is largely carbon dioxide. Left on its own, in a short 10,000 years, UV radiation would break it down to carbon monoxide. But it hasn't. "That means something is artificially maintaining the carbon dioxide atmosphere." Such as? "Micro-biological life produces carbon dioxide," Quine says. "I suppose volcanoes do as well, but we haven't seen much evidence of that."

Aha. Which is why we need to get there. For Quine and many others, all the robotic probes are a dress rehearsal for the real thing. "Before we send people, we need to know what the environment's like," he says.

He speaks as though it's an inevitable. He's not alone.

"We shouldn't think of it as a fairytale," Berinstain says. "The simple fact is, human beings go places they haven't been before, and as soon as they can. I don't know if it'll happen in 20, 30 or 100 years from now, but it will happen. There's no doubt in my mind about that."

For Zubrin, it's not we will, but we must. "To say we cannot accept the risks of humans to Mars would be to turn our backs not only on Apollo, but on Lewis and Clark, on Colombus, and everyone who took a chance to open up new possibilities to create the world we currently have," he says.

"For us to not accept that risk is for us to say we've become less than the people who got us to where we are today.

"And to me, that is something our society cannot afford."

Midnight mania - Halo Nation

24hoursnewsunder a dusty ol' Atari 2600 console, you know what happens at 12:01 a.m. this Tuesday. At more than 10,000 shops across North America, salespeople will face a late-night onslaught of twitchy-thumbed gamers for a moment of commercial frenzy – the release of Halo 3.

The final instalment in the hugely successful Halo video game series launches Sept. 25 for the Xbox 360. More than 500 retailers in Canada will open at midnight for the launch of Halo 3, which already has one million preorders in North America – making it the fastest-selling preordered game in history.

IGN's GamerMetrics analyst Nick Williams predicts Halo 3, made by Microsoft's Bungie Studios, will sell more than 4 million copies in the U.S. alone in the next two months.

This is a franchise with such tremendous buzz, consumer tech bible Wired magazine – which has Halo's protagonist Master Chief on its cover this month – is calling it "a cultural touchstone, a Star Wars for the thumbstick generation."

"It's a game series you could really rally behind because they're easy to get into, yet difficult to master," says Jeff Gerstmann, editorial director for, an online video game magazine. "Plus they have a good story, a likeable main character and multiplayer gaming over the Internet."

Sharma McCarthy, a 31-year-old project manager for a Toronto telecommunications company, says his passion for the series derives from its "super-involved story."

"No other game plays like it, in terms of look and feel. Bungie has an amazing level of detail."

For the uninitiated, Halo 3 continues Master Chief's fight against relentless alien races bent on destruction, concluding the story arc that began with 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo 3 offers new features including a four-player co-operative mode (letting gamers run through the single-player campaign with up to three friends, either on the same TV or over the Xbox Live online service); the ability to record game highlights; and new multiplayer maps.

"We know we have a pop-culture phenomenon on our hands here," says Ryan Bidan, product manager of games at Microsoft Canada.

"But despite its epic story and scope, our goal with Halo 3 is to make the game as accessible to as many people."

The Halo games have spawned comic books, novels, action figures, live-action short films and an undisclosed project involving the Academy Award-winning director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson.

To ensure the continued commercial success of this billion-dollar franchise, Microsoft has spent an estimated $10 million on its marketing campaign, says BrandWeek magazine, including TV spots during Monday Night Football, summer concert sponsorships and promotional deals inked with PepsiCo, 7-Eleven, Burger King, Pontiac, NASCAR and others.

Developed at Kirkland, Wash.,-based Bungie Studios, Halo 3 was created by 120 full-time employees – double the number that developed Halo 2 – as well as an "army" of part-time contractors, says Microsoft.

To tweak the multiplayer component of Halo 3, Microsoft held a widely publicized beta test this past spring, allowing more than 820,000 gamers to join online multiplayer matches for free.

Mike Zak, a B.C.-born designer at Bungie, says the pressure from the outside world to produce a game that lives up to the hype is nothing compared to what the team puts upon itself.

"We're our own worst critics," says Zak. "We're fortunate our fans are so appreciative but, truthfully, the real pressure comes from within our walls to create the best possible interactive entertainment experience possible. We're anxious to hear if we delivered."

The video game industry is facing a lot of "sequelitis" this coming season, says Gerstmann, with Guitar Hero 3 and the fourth Grand Theft Auto, which shouldn't make fans of the originals nervous.

"(Games) are one of the few forms of entertainment where the sequels are usually better than the originals."

That's what McCarthy is hoping he'll get on Tuesday – and he's not taking any chances.

"I have bought a couple of preorders ($70 apiece) to make sure I'm not that guy who doesn't get one. "On Monday night, me and my friends are having a farewell to Halo 2 party where we'll be playing it one last time. I've been online every day downloading podcasts, watching videos, reading articles, I even made my own Halo 3 T-shirts ... My friends are even more nuts than me ... (one) stocked up a wine fridge with Red Bull and PowerBars and we're all going online in the middle of the night (after picking up the Halo 3 preorder), and promised not to go to sleep until we all finished campaign in co-op mode."

India seeking Russian help to join ISS project

India seeking Russian help to join ISS project

India has sought the help of Russia to join the orbital International Space Station (ISS) project in the face of "objection by some other project partners", a top Russian space agency official has said.

"India has approached us, this (India) is a serious space power and would like to join ISS project. However, objection by some other project partners has put a question mark on this issue," Russia's Federal Space Agency (RKA) Chief Anatoly Perminov said responding to a question about the expansion of the ISS project participants. Besides Russian RKA, the ambitious ISS project includes the NASA of the USA, Canada, Japan and European Space Agency (ESA).

"I won't identify, who is concretely blocking India's entry, but they argue that the number of participants of the project is set by the international treaties and is enough to complete the construction of the orbital station," Perminov told reporters at a news conference here.

Lauding India's achievements in unmanned space flights, Perminov said that it was her natural desire to offer its contribution in the development of ISS. "I am confident that sooner or later, in any case after 2010 this issue (India's accession) will again be raised," Perminov said.


Space Station Expedition 16 Crew Approved

A Russian space flight commission has approved the members of the main and reserve crews for the 16th expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), a RIA Novosti correspondent reported Thursday. The main crew members, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, are scheduled for take-off October 10 aboard Soyuz TMA-11, together with Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first Malaysian astronaut.
Shukor will spend 10 days at the ISS, and return to Earth in late October with the Russian members of the previous expedition - Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.

Malenchenko and Whitson will be joined later at the ISS by new Flight Engineer Daniel Tani, arriving with the Discovery STS-120 mission, which is scheduled for launch on October 20.

Whitson is set to become the first female commander of an ISS expedition. She will spend around six months in space.

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Nokia launches 6301 Wi-Fi phone

Nokia launches 6301 Wi-Fi phone

Switching automatically between GSM and Wi-Fi networks, the Nokia 6301 will soon ship in Europe.

With a sleek stainless steel design, the Nokia 6301 phone launched today offers seamless voice and data mobility across GSM cellular and Wi-Fi networks via Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology. The Nokia 6301 phone uses UMA technology to integrate the benefits of landline and a mobile phone, including seamless indoor coverage, sound quality and affordability.

With UMA technology, the consumer can use the GSM network or a broadband Internet-connected Wi-Fi network for mobile services. This is supposed to ensure excellent indoor coverage both at office and home. European carrier Orange will be one of the first carriers to offer the Nokia 6301.

Weighing a mere 93 grams and measuring 106 by 44 by 13 mm, the Nokia 6301 also offers a 2-megapixel camera and a 2" QVGA screen, as well as Bluetooth support and microSD memory slot. Running on GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz networks, the Nokia 6301 will likely not appear in the U.S.

The Nokia 6301 will begin shipping in Europe during the fourth quarter of 2007 with an estimated retail price of 230 euros before subsidies or taxes.


Nokia's GSM/Wi-Fi phone - cheaper costs and better indoor coverage.

Nokia's 6301 is a traditional tri-band GSM candy bar phone that can seamlessly transfer your calls when in range of a connectable Wi-Fi network, offering the prospect of cheaper calls and a promise of better indoor coverage.

Look at Nokia's latest phone, the 6301, and you'll see what appears to be a standard 2G cell phone, ready to let you make voice calls and access the Internet at up to EDGE speeds.

But as is increasingly becoming common in select models from Nokia themselves, Samsung, Blackberry and for a long time from manufacturers of Pocket PC Windows smartphones, the 6301 can also connect to an available Wi-Fi network in the home, office or when out and about to transmit phone calls over the Internet, using VoIP technology, turning the cell phone into the equivalent of a landline phone.

This is done using UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) technology, which handles the seamless handover between GSM and Wi-Fi networks. UMA also works with any Bluetooth networks that are also connected to the Internet, although these are almost unknown in a world of Wi-Fi networking. While other phones from Nokia and others already come with Wi-Fi, Nokia's UMA phone is claimed to be the first to allow seamless handover of your phone calls and your phone's number on GSM and Wi-Fi - and that's the crucial difference.

The reward for making phone calls over the Internet whether you have an existing phone that has Wi-Fi and can make Internet calls through a separate number or identity, or you have Nokia's 6301 UMA phone, is a reduction in costs for both the user and the operator - you're connecting over Wi-Fi and using VoIP technology at lower costs than using the GSM network. Another reward for consumers is that a Wi-Fi network in the home or office will generally offer much stronger coverage than mobile phone towers do in many homes.

So, having your phone connect via Wi-Fi and still receive calls normally, with better coverage than with GSM alone, is certainly a clear benefit, letting users make cheap and clear calls from home using their cell phone.

The penalty for the user is that connecting to a Wi-Fi network on a mobile phone uses more power than connecting to the standard GSM tower infrastructure, giving users shorter talk times when only Wi-Fi networks are used.

It's for this reason that Nokia has included a desk stand in the package, which Nokia says is "to hold the phone and keep its battery charged while connected to WLAN [Wi-Fi]".

Naturally, Nokia and others are working on ways to create lower power Wi-Fi chipsets and increase battery capacity, but this is a limitation Wi-Fi delivers to all phones, with the iPhone's claimed 6 continuous hours of 'Internet Use' over Wi-Fi the only phone so far to really break the Wi-Fi power barrier.

So, how much talk time does the 6301 have over Wi-Fi, and does it matter anyway? Also, what about alternatives like Fring, other Internet phone call companies taking advantage of Wi-Fi phones and Skype itself.

Nokia's stated talk time for the 6301 is 3.5 hours with a 14 day stand-by time, although this is likely only for GSM calls, with no call times claimed for Wi-Fi yet, but whatever the talk time ends up being, the charging dock and the fact the Nokia has a removable battery mean serious users don't have to worry about battery life if they don't want to.

The 6301 itself has a standard Nokia 2 megapixel camera with 8x digital zoom, a 2-inch QVGA screen, 30MB inbuilt, a 128MB microSD card in the box, and significantly for those wanting to carry a nice selection of MP3 music files, video clips, photos or simply to have a spare gigabyte or two of space to use your phone as a USB memory drive when connected with the USB cable, the 6301 has compatibility with 4GB microSD cards.

On the topic of music, Nokia's standard MP3 player, FM radio and voice recognition capabilities for command, dialling and voice recording are included as standard. The size is 13.1mm - not quite as thin as the iPhone's 11.6m, but thin nonetheless.

No mention is made of the operating system used, but it seems obvious that it will be the latest version of Series 60, for which a range of third party programs are also available to download.

Competing VoIP Internet phone programs could theoretically be used with the 6301. An example is a free software app called Fring, offering N95 and other eries 60 Nokia users the ability to use their phone's data network to make VoIP calls to Skype users or fellow Fring users.

Skype itself is available for Nokia users, with 3 Mobile offering Skype compatibility for their mobile phones with the Skype network, while traditional Internet phone companies are also offering phones such as the N95 the ability to sign up to a phone service that gives you a regular local phone number in your location, turning your cell phone into a landline phone, able to make local calls at very low rates, while letting others call you on a landline number at cheaper rates than when calling a mobile phone number.

French mobile phone company Orange is the first operator to offer the 6310 to its customers, and promises the "convenience of a single phone and a tariff at home and on the move" - implying a cheaper rate when used at home with Wi-Fi, and the normal rate when out and about making calls on the GSM network.

Nokia says the phone will cost 230 euros and will go on sale in 'select' European markets before the end of the year.

Clearly, especially with Wi-Fi's high power requirements, we are still at the beginning of a world where making a call over a Wi-Fi network is a common as making one over GSM.

But the sands are irreversibly shifting, and the networks we can use to make calls and communicate are increasing, with WiMAX and even faster 3.5G HSDPA or 4G networks to come.

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Scientists: Catalina bison have cow DNA

Scientists: Catalina bison have cow DNA

Long thought to be purebred, the wild bison of Santa Catalina Island in fact have a little bit of cow in them, the first DNA analysis of the animals found.

Nearly half of the 98 American bison shipped off the island in 2004 have cattle genes that were passed on through the mother. Catalina bison were believed to be purer than those on the mainland because they lived in isolation on the island since the 1920s.

"We were surprised because there's nothing cattle about them. They look like bison," said biologist Dennis Hedgecock of the University of Southern California, who co-authored the study.

The research done at USC and Texas A&M University appears in the latest issue of the journal Animal Genetics.

Scientists believe the crossbreeding occurred long before the bison were brought to Catalina Island. Hedgecock said the Catalina herd likely descended from animals on the famous Goodnight Ranch in Texas where cattle ranchers mated bison, also called buffalo, with cows to create a better beef animal. The ranch called the offspring of the union "cataloes."

Bison have roamed Catalina since 1924 when 14 head were brought in as extras for the silent film "The Vanishing American," though the movie did not include footage of the bison. The animals became a mainstay on the island and grew to a herd of 600 at one point.

Since the 1970s, the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages most of the island, has thinned the herd by auctioning the animals, some of which ended up in slaughterhouses. The conservancy ended the practice in 2003 and has since sent bison to Indian reservations for breeding and consumption.

Today, about 180 bison live on the island about 20 miles off the Southern California coast. The animals are a major tourist draw and throngs of visitors take Jeep and Hummer tours through the rugged interior to take a peek at the wooly beasts.

Conservancy spokeswoman Leslie Baer said there was great hope the Catalina bison would be genetically uncontaminated because they had been kept separate from domestic cattle. The conservancy plans to test every bison next year to see if any are purebred.

"We don't stand out as we thought we did," Baer said. "But we still don't really know what the rest of our herd look like."

The Catalina bison had not been genetically tested before, so the researchers took blood samples from the animals that were rounded up and sent to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 2004. DNA analysis found 45 percent have a domestic cow as an ancestor. Although cattle genes were not detected in the remaining bison, scientists cannot say for sure they are not hybrids because of the limits of the DNA tests they performed.

Once on the brink of extinction, bison are often held up as a conservation success story. Of the estimated 300,000 bison in North America, the vast majority are mixed. In the United States, fewer than 5,000 bison are known to lack cattle genes, according to geneticist James Derr of Texas A&M, who co-authored the study.

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Simple designs. Major benefits

Simple designs. Major benefits

Electricity from cow manure. Pedal-powered grain mill or a backpack for water. Cooler that uses evaporation from wet fabric. An innovative idea at MIT saw tinkerers from 16 nations working on inventions to save the world

Beneath the bustling "infinite corridor" linking buildings at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just past a boiler room, an assemblage of tinkerers from 16 countries welded, stitched and hammered, working on rough-hewn inventions aimed at saving the world, one village at a time.

MIT has nurtured dozens of Nobel Prize winners in cerebral realms like astrophysics, economics and genetics. But lately, the institute has turned its attention toward concrete thinking to improve the lives of the world's bottom billion, those who live on a dollar a day or less and who often die young.

This summer, it played host to a four-week International Development Design Summit to identify problems, cobble together prototype solutions and winnow the results to see which might work in the real world.

Mohamed Mashaal, a young British engineer headed for a job with BP on the North Sea this fall, poured water into a handcrafted plastic backpack worn by a design partner, Bernard Kiwia, who teaches bicycle repair in rural Tanzania and hopes to offer women there an easier way to tote the precious liquid for long distances.
Sham Tembo, an electrical engineer from Zambia, and Jessica Vechakul, an engineering graduate student at MIT, slowly added a cow manure puree to a 5-gallon bucket holding charcoal made from corncobs. In the right configuration, the mix might generate enough electricity to charge a cell phone battery or a small flashlight for a year or more.

The summit ( was the brainchild mainly of Amy Smith, a lecturer at MIT.
Typically, D-Lab sends students abroad in midwinter breaks to work with people who are struggling with a lack of clean water, electricity, cooking fuels or mechanical power to turn crops into products. For four weeks, though, the real world had come to MIT.

The work itself was often two steps back, not one step forward. As Lhamotso, a young woman from Tibet, and Laura Stupin, who just graduated from Olin, wrestled with a whirring Rube Goldberg mash-up of bicycle and grain mill, the chain slipped with a loud clang.

"We have a real friction problem," Stupin yelled.
"Nearly 90 percent of research and development dollars are spent on creating technologies that serve the wealthiest 10 percent of the world's population," Smith said. "The point of the design revolution is to switch that."
Developing a pedal-powered grain mill or a backpack for water, as workshop participants did, was only a first step. The teams also had to be sure that their creations could be built of local materials cheaply enough to be bought by the world's poorest people, that they could be fixed easily and fit ways of living that have deep-rooted rhythms.

The workshop began in mid-July, with the arrival of nearly 50 visitors from Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, Tanzania, Tibet and other countries.

The workshop began with a lecture by Paul Polak, a psychiatrist turned entrepreneur, who develops simple solutions for the problems of the poor. Polak, who has become something of a guru to the design revolution movement, railed against conventional charity and insisted that the route to prosperity lies in inventions that improve lives but mesh with existing lifestyles.

He laid out the principles of development from the bottom up, including the importance of first listening and watching, then following the old dictum "small is beautiful" with another, equally important one: "Cheap is beautiful."

The goal, he said, should be to improve a million lives, and to make technologies that can be sold and bought in increments -- like a drip-irrigating system that can expand as a farmer's income rises.

Ashley Thomas, an entering senior at MIT, explained the appeal of such work while struggling with a teetering metal frame for a cooler that uses evaporation from wet fabric instead of electrical components to draw heat from its contents. The idea was conceived with participants from Tibet, where meat must be stored for weeks in isolated rural areas, and India, where heat can quickly ruin a vendor's inventory.

"Imagine a fruit vendor in a rural area or the slums," explained Deepa Dubey, a partner of Thomas, who studies product design as a graduate student in Kanpur, India. "He comes with all his fruit and vegetables. At the end of the day he makes one dollar, and whatever is left he has to throw it away because he can't store it."
Thomas said, "Amy's class is about the hardest class to get into at MIT, including at the Sloan School, which is basically about how to make a million dollars after you graduate."

She added: "It's taking industrial design theory and applying it to where you can have the greatest impact. Here, $5 worth of angle iron and towels could mean a month's supply of food. To me, that's just worth so much more than spending that amount of time working on designing a slick new computer."
New York Times News Service

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