The tech-for-good takeover: How ethical companies are cutting through the noise to help those in need
Over the last decade or so, the motivations behind many tech developments have been changing. Entrepreneurs and start-ups are creating technology with the aim of making a positive difference.
A study by Tech Nation showed that the UK is the global centre for socially responsible technology innovation. It found that ‘Tech for social good’ companies were worth £2.3 billion in 2018 and had a turnover of £732 million. This was significantly higher than the £634 million generated by the manufacture of consumer electronics. In November 2017, the UK cabinet office launched a £20 million ‘GovTech Fund’ to help private-sector innovators address public-sector challenges, helping the tech-for-good sector to thrive.
From the consumer point of view, it’s no surprise that tech-for good companies are flourishing. With groups such as extinction rebellion making headlines, we’re starting as a nation to see the full impact of our purchasing decisions and the long-term effects that brands can have on the planet. In addition to this, we’re more aware than ever about some of the most pressing global issues. For example, as a result of the environmental activist group’s efforts, back in May the UK parliament declared a national climate emergency and pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. However, many of us remain sceptical that even if these targets were met, it wouldn’t be enough to solve the issues.
In addition to the generally strained political landscape that currently exists in the UK, issues such as these are causing the public to have less faith in the government and look elsewhere for answers and solutions. According to the McCann Worldgroup’s 2019 Truth central report, consumers have twice as much faith in brands as they do politicians. In addition to this, 81% of people in the study believe that brands can make the world a better place.
But what actually are these brands doing and how are they impacting society? Here are just five examples of tech-for-good companies which are helping to transform people’s lives.
PANDA – AI for the visually impaired
PANDA’s mission is to restore the sight of visually impaired, partially sighted or blind people. Or rather, to help give them eyes – via their ears! In the form of an audio headset fitted with a miniature camera, PANDA Guide uses a range of technology including cognitive vision, artificial intelligence, osteophony and 3D sound. It reacts to its user’s voice and responds to their requests by describing the environment. While it doesn’t replace human assistance, this clever and discreet device helps to give a new level of independence to visually impaired people. The creators call it an augmented reality helmet, to “turn ears into eyes”.
The name PANDA is apt because pandas are one of the few mammals born blind. During the first weeks of its life its eyes are not yet formed, so it must be guided by its mother! But PANDA is also the anagram for Personal Assistant for Natural Daily Autonomy.
Deciwatt GravityLight – Instant light from the lift of a weight
There are just under a billion people in the world who are still living without electricity. Many of them rely on dangerous, polluting and expensive kerosene lamps for light. GravityLight provides a clean, affordable alternative to kerosene.
Hang a GravityLight from a wall or ceiling, fill the bag with rocks or sand and winch it up. You may not realise it, but you’ve just created a battery. As the bag slowly falls to the ground it drives a generator through a gearbox, which provides direct electrical power for an LED, creating 20 minutes of light.
Open Bionics is a Robotics company which is creating affordable 3D printed bionic hands for elbow amputee adults and children. They are currently developing the tech necessary to produce medical-grade bionic hands with the right strength and multi-grip functionality to be able to grab, pinch, high-five, fist bump, thumbs-up.
Open Bionics is currently working with the NHS and a number of other medical and research institutions on clinical trial to make affordable bionic arms available for children in the UK.
Ava and Rogervoice – AI to make social life accessible for deaf people
The everyday ability to make a phone call is something we’re all used to, and something most of us take for granted. However, for people with a hearing impairment, this is luxury which they do not have. As well as having difficulty hearing the person on the other end of the phone, those who have been deaf since birth often struggle to develop clear speech, making it difficult for the other person to understand.
Smartphone apps such as Ava and Rogervoice translate and transcribe oral conversations into text in real time. Users also have the option to type their responses, helpful for those with unclear speech or in noisy environments.
The impact? 100,000 people use AVA daily and 100,000 phone-calls are made using Rogervoice, changing thousands of lives.
AID: Tech for refugees
Frustrated with the inability to trace where his charitable donations were going, in 2015, CEO Joseph Thompson used his software background to found Aid:Tech.
Storage and use of money is a challenge for refugees. That’s where Blockchain makes the difference. To ensure total accountability and traceability, Thompson and his team implemented an intelligent voucher system that is distributed to whoever is in need of aid, like someone at a refugee camp. Each voucher would contain a unique ID for one person that can be ‘topped up’ with aid used for money, food etc and spent at a centre. The blockchain transactions are then completed by scanning a QR code using a mobile phone and confirming it over local Wi-Fi.
But despite gallant efforts to bring internet and Wi-Fi access to refugee camps, many are still without regular access to it, so what about them? Thompson said that in this instance, their app that scans the vouchers can connect the two via Bluetooth, and by issuing out Raspberry Pi computers to store owners or aid workers, they can be collected at the end of the day and uploaded online later on.
Learning about these tech-for-good companies is a reminder that there are still good-intentioned people in the world. However, these businesses need to market themselves in such a way that customers and supporters can see the good work they are achieving, so they can continue to grow and innovate.
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