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TPM Idealab: Impact

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

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Who says useful things can’t also be pretty?

Equal parts sculpture and cistern, the WarkaWater project, named for the warka tree of Ethiopia, a common meeting place for communities, is meant to provide people living in arid areas access to clean fresh water, plucked right out of thin air.

The water collection tower, conceived of by the Italian design firm Architecture and Vision, will also add to the skyline of the Ethiopian community where it will be introduced in the next few years. The newest version of the tower consists of a conical bamboo lattice more than 30 feet high which suspends a mesh made of a hydrophobic material over a reservoir.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — About four years ago, the Google team trying to develop cars driven by computers — not people — became convinced that sooner than later, the technology would be ready for the masses. There was one big problem: Driverless cars were almost certainly illegal.

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Far from the licensed pharmacies of Accra, Ghana, medicines are often peddled rather than dispensed. In rural villages, roving vendors move medicines from market to market selling them out of wheelbarrows or packages carried on top of their heads. They sell the cheapest medicines, like painkillers, but also important over-the-counter drugs such as anti-malarials. Often they become local authorities on medicines as they get to know their inventory. But the drugs the merchants sell aren’t always what they think they are.

“Mobile peddlers will sell anything they can get their hands on,” says Selorm Branttie, lead marketing strategist at the African company mPedigree, which all too often includes falsified drugs that don’t contain the right active ingredient or contain too little of it. These drugs are a huge medical problem in Africa and around the world. The Ghana-based mPedigree has developed a technological solution to this public health problem, using the source many Africans trust the most: their mobile phones.

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While visiting the rural communes of northern Vietnam, Bruce McCormick, an American entrepreneur, saw a way to completely reshape the landscape of vaccine distribution. To replace the slow, centralized system found not only in Vietnam, but around the world, where supply chain delays can cost lives, he’s going to bring vaccines closer to where they’re needed most, and he’s going to do it with heat and ice.

In Vietnam, hepatitis B runs rampant, as it does throughout much of Southeast Asia. It’s a viral disease more infectious than HIV and easily transmissible from mother to child during birth, which can lead to a life-long infection that wrecks the liver. But it’s also a treatable disease; if infants can be vaccinated within 24 hours of being born, they have a 95 percent chance of growing up free from the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

To make sure newborns get treated right away, vaccines need to reach the point of care quickly. Delivering vaccines to remote areas is exactly what concerns McCormick, who is president of SAVSU Technologies, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based company that makes containers to store and transport medical supplies.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Google says that cars it has programmed to drive themselves have started to master the navigation of city streets and the challenges they bring, from jaywalkers to weaving bicyclists — a critical milestone for any commercially available self-driving car technology.

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