Friday, August 24, 2012

3rd World Washing Machine

If you asked demographer Hans Rosling what invention the world's poorest people would like, that I could give from my house right now, he would answer in an instant one thing that personally changed his own family's life: The washing machine. Wait, what?

If for some reason you can't see the video, it's his lecture he gave to TED in which he describes how the washing machine changed his own family in surprising ways. Before, laundry was difficult work, thrust upon women against their will, that sucked up the better part of a day just to get clothing clean and dry. When this was mechanized, time was freed up for more important things, like education. The washing machine liberated women, and freed them up to improve things both for themselves and for the men in their life. Hans personally describes his rise to academia because his mother was freed up to tutor him.
Except, if I were to give the washing machine that I use to someone in the poorest part of the world, it would be a useless cube of steel from their perspective. They don't have running water. They don't have electrical connections, and when they do, those connections cannot be relied upon, as they often go out for weeks at a time. (Sometimes someone steals the copper, cutting the power, or the power gets cut for political reasons, or there's a strike at the power plant, which is then forced to shut down lest something get damaged while not maintained.) So...what to do?
Hack A Day reports that enterprising inventors have two designs for washing machines that can be operated with a bucket of water and hand-power, yet are far less laborous than the traditional fire-heated hand scrubbing. In one, the water, soap, and clothing is put into a barrel that resembles a water cooler. By repeatedly pushing a switch with one's foot, everything inside is spun around like a salad shooter, which causes all the soiled material to stick to the soap instead of the clothing:

The other option is a machine like a stationary bicycle connected to a barrel. The clothing, soap, and water goes into the barrel, the barrel is closed, then you pedal to agitate the clothing. And just like all the other machines, the frothing mixture makes the soiled material bind to the soap, which then comes out of the mixture:
Of the two options, I predict that the bicycle model will be more popular, as stationary bicycles are already a novelty in the poorest regions, where bicycles are an expensive but extremely useful form of transportation. A bicycle is like a walking multiplier -- The same effort makes you go farther and faster. No further investment is required after the bicycle, and what experience these people have shows them that bicycles can be fun.
In either case, an increase in the utility of human labor is surely a good thing.

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