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Here are the 2017 innovations that changed the world

Picture: Morgan’s Inspiration Island; eSight; Petit Pli; Manu Prakash/Stanford

2017 may have been a rough season, but there were plenty of inventions, creations, and gadgets that made the planet just a slightly better place.

From global health to social justice to humanitarian aid, a ton of scientists, technologists, and activists came together this year to make impactful answers to a few of our pressing issues.

In no specific order, here are 30 innovations that made a tangible difference in 2017. For even more inspiration, check out our list of incredible creations from 2016.

1. The 20-cent paper toy that can help diagnose diseases

This paper apparatus, that only costs 20 cents to make, will help scientists and doctors diagnose diseases like malaria and HIV within minutes — no power required.

The Paperfuge, developed by Stanford assistant professor of bioengineering Manu Prakash, is a hand-powered centrifuge that was inspired by a whirligig toy. It can hold blood samples onto a disc, and by simply pulling the strings back and forth, it spins the samples at extremely rapid rates to separate blood out of plasma, preparing them for disease testing.

It might prove revolutionary for rural regions in developing countries, and save lives in the procedure.

2. The gentle robot sleeve that can restart a failing heart

Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital created this customizable soft robot formula that can wrap around a failing heart and squeeze it, allowing blood to maintain flowing through the body. In tests conducted on dinosaurs, the apparatus allowed the creatures’ hearts to start pumping again.

The innovation is still in testing phases, however, the goal is to one day be able to use it so as to save human lives. According to Harvard, heart failure affects 41 million people globally.

3. A Facebook translation bot for refugees

Tarjimly is a Facebook translation bot that connects refugees with volunteer translators, where they are in the world. Whether they will need to speak with doctors, aid workers, legal representatives, or other crucial services, customers can tap into the power of Facebook Messenger to get real-time, possibly life-saving, translations immediately.

4. Bright glasses that help legally blind people see

The eSight 3 is a set of digital glasses that can drastically improve a legally blind person’s eyesight, helping them see and perform daily tasks with ease.

The device fits over a user’s eyes and glasses such as a headset, using a camera to send images to tiny dual screens before their eyes. Two sensors adjust the focus, even though a handheld remote lets the user zoom and contrast, among other functions. For a user with 20/400 vision, for instance, it can improve their eyesight up to 20/25.  

5. A cardboard drone for humanitarian help


Otherlab, a San Francisco-based technology research and development lab, developed what it calls the world’s most advanced industrial paper plane. The cardboard gliders are created with a biodegradable material and equipped with GPS and other electronics, letting them be dropped by a plane and deliver just two lbs of life threatening materials without having to be retrieved.  

6. 3D-printed sex organs to help blind students learn

Picture: Courtesy of Benetech

Holistic, inclusive sex erectile dysfunction is hard to come by because it is. For blind students, it is even harder. That’s why researchers and advocates in Benetech created 18 3D characters that show sex organs during a numerous states of arousal, allowing students “feel” their way through sex education. Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University to make the models.

7. A texting service that sees Congress for you in two minutes

2017 was a year of resistance, and one of the most tangible methods for taking action was contacting your reps. Enter Resistbot, a simple service that lets you text RESIST into 50409 or message the accompanying Facebook bot so as that will help you discover the right members of Congress and deliver your message to them straight.

8. The app for detained immigrants to contact their household

Picture: Notifica/Huge

The Notifica app helps undocumented immigrants that get detained or caught up in raids to send secure messages to a designated service community of family and friends.

9. A mobile-based ambulance cab app in Tanzania

Vodafone has developed an advanced ambulance taxi app from the rural Lake Zone of Tanzania, employing the power of cellular phones. The application assists pregnant women in health crises dial a specific hotline number, through which health workers join them to a local community of vetted cab drivers that will get them fast to clinics when there are only a few ambulances available.

The drivers are paid by the organization during the mobile cash system M-Pesa, so it is free for users.

10. A program that gets children moving — and also help other children, too

Picture: Lili Sams / Mashable

The UNICEF Kid Power app is a standalone app that expands on the organization’s fitness bands program, helping children convert their daily steps into life threatening nutrition for malnourished children in the developing world. The app counts your steps — every 2,500 steps provides you with a point, and 10 points “unlock” a ready-to-use curative food (RUTF) package that UNICEF and patrons will send to a child with severe acute malnutrition.

11. Facebook’s digital maps that help with disaster aid

Picture: Facebook

In June, Facebook announced a new product called “disaster maps,” using Facebook data in disaster areas so as to send crucial information to help organizations during and after crises. The data aids relief efforts get a bird’s eye perspective of that needs assistance, where, and what resources are necessary.

12. The chatbot that wants to help you with your mental wellbeing 

Picture: Woebot

Woebot is just one of those first chatbots of its kind, using artificial intelligence to talk to you, help improve your mood, and also alleviate symptoms of depression. It’s not a replacement for a therapist by any means, but a Stanford University study showed that Woebot “resulted in considerable reductions in anxiety and depression among people aged 18-28 years old.”

13. A program connecting refugees with essential services

Picture: RefAid

RefAid is an app that connects refugees with nearby services in education, health, legal aid, shelter and much more by using their place. It initially started as a side project, but now over 400 of the most significant aid organizations on earth, including the Red Cross and Doctors of the World, all use it.  

14. A solar-powered tent designed for homeless people

Picture: Scott Witter / Mashable

Before this season, 12 teens in San Fernando, California, joined forces with the nonprofit DIY Girls to invent a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack for homeless populations. They gained a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to develop the tent, and introduced their job at MIT in June.

15. The app that could help end female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) affects millions of girls and women around the world. In Kenya, where the procedure is illegal but nevertheless practiced because of cultural importance, a bunch of five teenaged girls    created the i-Cut app to fight back.

I-Cut allows users to alert police as a preventative step, and also lets spouses send reports and find local rescue centers. The app got them a place in the 2017 Technovation Challenge in August.  

16. An eyeglass accessory to alert deaf people of audio

Peri is an accessory that attaches to a deaf person’s eyeglasses and translates audio cues into visual ones. Inspired by first-person shooter games, in which the screen glows as your character is hit, Peri lights up from the direction of loud sounds.

It can help deaf and hard of hearing customers not only with greater consciousness, but also to avoid dangerous situations more readily.  

17. The tool that turns your computer power into bond cash

Bail Bloc, created by a team at The New Inquiry, uses your computer’s spare power to help contribute to community bond capital, helping people in jail and their families that can’t afford bail.    

Bail Bloc Utilizes the power to mine a cryptocurrency Named Monero, which is then converted into U.S. dollars to donate to the Bronx Freedom Fund and The Bail Project. No more cryptocurrency knowledge required — all you have to do is run it in your computer’s background.  

18. This game-changing Braille literacy tool for kids

The Read Read is an advanced learning apparatus that teaches blind people and those with low vision how to read Braille. Each tile has Braille lettering printed on metal to touch, along with the apparatus also reads out the letter out loud as well as just how many dots it contains. This also aids the consumer sound out every word they learn.

19. An air-powered wheelchair for children with disabilities

Morgan’s Inspiration Island is a new, accessible water park in San Antonio, Texas, specifically created for children with disabilities. But what about children using electric wheelchairs? No problem — the theme park awakened with the University of Pittsburgh to develop the PneuChair, a light, air-powered wheelchair that can get wet and only takes 10 minutes to control.

20. The first gender-inclusive educational toy

Meet Sam, a new set of stacking dolls in which every layer indicates another stage of sex questioning and exploring. Created by Gender Creative Kids Canada, that calls the doll “the world’s first educational transgender toy,” Sam was created with trans youth in mind. The founders hope it will help educate all kids and their families.

Gender Creative Kids Canada established a Kickstarter for its toy, and also released an e-book and accompanying video to introduce Sam into the entire world.

21. A robot attorney for non profit communities

The chatbot DoNotPay offers users free legal help for a range of issues, including helping refugees apply for asylum, directing people in reporting harassment at work, as well as aiding everyday consumers who want to struggle corporations who try to take advantage of those.

22. All these period-friendly boxers for trans men

Picture: Courtesy of Pyramid Native

A new firm called Pyramid Seven established a lineup of period-inclusive panties for trans men, filling a much needed gap in the period-friendly panties market. Each pair of boxers is trendy and includes an excess panel inside to encourage period products, such as pads. Due to high demand, the grade of panties quickly sold out.

23. A revolutionary gene therapy treatment for cancer

An illustration of a white blood cell.

Picture: Shutterstock /

Kymriah is a newly FDA-approved cancer therapy treatment from the drug company Novartis. It’s part of a new class of therapy called CAR-T, which is created by “harvesting a patient’s own disease-fighting T-cells, genetically engineering them to target certain proteins on cancer cells, and substituting them to circulate potentially for decades, seeking out and attacking cancer,” according to Reuters.

It’s not cheap — it costs $475,000 per patient — but the results of patients with aggressive blood cancer are unprecedented. In reality, 83 percent of patients were cancer-free following three months with one dose (they continued to react following six months, according to new reports).

24. The empowering hand-held breast implants

Willow is a robotic breast pump that makes it possible for people to pump hands free and gently. You are able to wear two of those pumps beneath your bra, so it is discreet and allows you to multitask.

25. A wheelchair that allows its users to stand

The Laddroller is a wheelchair that helps its users stand. Designed by Greek architect Dimitrios Petrotos, the Laddroller uses four wheels, and can also navigate rough terrains. After 13 prototypes, it is currently awaiting regulatory approval to go to market.

26. A portable, reinvented IV pole

Picture: Courtesy of IV Walk

IV-Walk is a reimagining of the conventional IV pole to give its customers more flexibility and range. It had been made by Alissa Rees, that had been diagnosed with leukemia in 19 years old and had to remain attached to an IV pole for weeks at a time throughout her two years in the hospital.

“Stimulating mobility using the IV-Walk speeds up restoration,” Rees says on her website.   “Apart from that, holding the pole is a cheerless way to present to friends or family. Presenting yourself in a proper way can be significant during a long stay in hospital”

27. A solar-powered water delivery cart

Picture: Watt-R

Watt-r is a water shipping cart that intends to improve the experience for women and children, who often are those in developing countries to become tasked with gathering water for their households. The cart is still in development, but it will be able to transport a dozen 20-liter containers of water at one time, and solar energy will let it move, according to Fast Business.

28. Clothes that expand as your child grows

Petit Pli is a line of clothes that grow with your child using expansion and growth technologies. The clothes are waterproof, lightweight, and gender-inclusive with pleated layouts, allowing every item of clothing to grow up to seven dimensions. It’s not only sustainable by reducing waste, but can also save money on new clothes.

29. Nike’s specialist sportswear hijab

Nike established its Nike Pro Hijab globally this year, to further the company’s notion that “if you’ve got a body, you are an athlete.” Working with professional athletes that wear hijab, the item is constructed of single-layer mesh that is breathable, stretchy, and readily customized for any sport.

30. GPS-enabled turtle eggs to help track poachers

Picture: Paso Pacifico

According to the wildlife conservation nonprofit Paso Pacifico, poachers in Central America ruin 90 percent of endangered sea turtle nests to illegally sell the eggs, that are considered a delicacy. So the company created the GPS-enabled “InvestEGGator Sea Turtle Eggs” — 3D-printed eggs that track poachers and show smuggling routes, which can help Paso Pacifico utilize governments and prevent wildlife offense. The innovation has already won lots of awards.


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