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10 Genius Tech Ideas National Geographic Thinks Could Change The World

The 10 finalists of the organization’s Chasing Genius contest cover everything from using AI to monitor water quality to helping people use Facebook to donate to charity.

10 Genius Tech Ideas National Geographic Thinks Could Change The World
[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

“Genius lives in all of us.” So says National Geographic‘s Chasing Genius platform, a community that the media company designed to help promote solutions to major world challenges, conceived by anyone, anywhere. In a competition in 2017, the platform crowdsourced broad ideas for tackling global health, hunger, and environmental sustainability. In a new competition, the ideas focus on using technology and connectivity. Voting is open for the 10 finalists below; the winner will get $25,000.

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[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

Using Drones To Find Plastic Landmines

Nearly three decades after Soviet troops left Afghanistan, some of the hundreds of thousands of landmines they scattered in the country are still killing and maiming people who happen to step on them or pick them up. The small mines–shaped like butterflies, so children often mistake them for toys–are made of plastic, so metal detectors miss them. This idea proposes using drones to find the mines with thermal imaging instead.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

A Donate Button For Facebook Posts

A Facebook post about a cause might generate millions of likes and not much else. This startup, called PocketChange, aims at the problem of clicktivism. The platform adds a micro-donation button to Facebook, and when you see a post about a particular issue, the button lights up, identifies the cause, selects the most impactful related charity, and helps you instantly donate an amount between 25 cents and $2.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

An App To Keep Trash Out Of Nature

When the founder of this app traveled to Mexico with oceanographers, he happened to learn one reason why so much plastic trash ends up in the ocean–if trash collectors are paid as soon as they pick up garbage, they don’t have a strong incentive to deliver it to a landfill, and some collectors simply dump their loads in waterways instead. This new app, called Operation Trash Route, creates a new tracking system that pays a fair wage only when trash reaches a landfill. It also helps landfills make better use of resources.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

A “Turbo Tax For Women’s Rights” In The Middle East

Designed for women living in the Middle East and North Africa, this platform would make it possible for women to quickly look up women’s legal rights in whatever country they live in. Then, like Turbo Tax, it would take them step-by-step through the process of applying for documents like a driver’s license.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

Augmented Reality for Stroke Recovery

Recovering from a stroke can take months or years, and it’s often hard for patients to keep up with rehabilitation exercises, especially after short-term coverage from insurance ends. This app turns exercises into an augmented reality game: The patient plays the part of a farmer planting trees or feeding chickens, making each movement more interesting. At the end of the day, a chart shows how the patient is progressing toward muscle recovery to help them keep motivation up.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

Digital Rehabilitation For Developing Countries

In rural parts of developing countries, someone who has a stroke–or any other condition that requires physical therapy–may not be able to easily access a rehab center, and language barriers can make it difficult to learn exercises remotely. This platform lets doctors prescribe exercises that patients can access through a smartphone. The app shows animations of the movement, and lets patients choose their own language to hear instructions.

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[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

A Virtual Reality Game For Kids With Autism

Designed by a team led by a college student who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a child, this virtual reality game lets people with autism replay different scenarios to learn social cues. Called Social Cipher, it’s based on the founder’s experience of feeling like a detective trying to decipher the code of interaction.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

Underwater Drones To Track Frogs

As frogs die off in Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake in the world, this project is designed to find out why–and what it might mean for other animals and plants in the ecosystem. The team plans to use underwater drones built by high school students to explore the lake and gather data.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

Microchips For Livestock

Designed by a rancher from Montana who lives next to Yellowstone–and grizzly bears and wolves–this project aims to implant microchips in livestock. Ranchers would be able to track an animal’s location, body temperature, and heart rate, and get alerts when an animal might be sick or stressed because a predator is nearby. If an animal is killed by a predator, the rancher can learn that immediately.

[Image: courtesy National Geographic]

AI For Clean Water

Contaminated water is common around the world, but not necessarily easy to track. This project is designed to use artificial intelligence to analyze samples of water and identify contaminants by shape. Instead of using single-use strips to test water repeatedly, the new system could continuously monitor water at particular locations.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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