Intel's 2009 Inspire-Empower Challenge Awards Salute Four World Changing Projects

When you read about what four Intel Challenge winners are doing, don't be surprised if you feel like giving up your day job and joining them in their valiant causes.  These are truly inspiring and empowering innovations.

This was Intel's challenge for 2009: The best technological solutions to address education, health care, economic development, and the environment in a way that empowers and enables people to connect to a 'world of opportunity.'   There were 200 submission to the Intel Challenge this year and the company announced four winners last week.  Each winner  received $100,000 to support their innovations.

These are the four winners:


1.  CellScope: Telemicroscopy for Disease Diagnosis


Gadget geeks will love this invention, created by Daniel Fletcher and his team of researchers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.   The CellScope is a mobile microscope that turns camera cell phones, Smartphones, handhelds and netbooks into handheld microscopes.

Fletcher, an associate professor in the Bioengineering Department and the Biophysics program wants to persue two directions for the CellScope.  The ability to diagnose diseases on site by photographing disease cells through the microscoping lens and wirelessly transmitting those images to laboratories can make a major difference in the developing world; so the first goal is to use the CellScope system as a mobile diagnostic tool.

Sickle cell anemia blood sample. Image from CellScope at 50x. Credit: David Breslauer, Wilbur Lam, & Tom HuntSickle cell anemia blood sample. Image from CellScope at 50x. Credit: David Breslauer, Wilbur Lam, & Tom Hunt The other interesting use of the CellScope is to enable better home care.  Patients would be able to monitor their health and send the data directly to their physicians for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.  I wonder if the health insurers would be covering the cost of the CellScopes?

The Fletcher team at UC Berkeley will use their winnings to perform in depth field studies on the CellScope system during the next six months.




2.   Great Lakes Cassava Initiative


Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRSPhoto by Debbie DeVoe/CRS In 1997, a virulent disease destroyed the crop of sub-Saharan cassava, the food that was as much a staple to most of Africa as rice is to China. 

The Great Lakes Cassava Initiative (GLCI)  is a project of the Catholic Relief Services, led by Michael Potts, a senior agricultural adviser for the organization.  Based in Kenya, Mr. Potts' team works with local farmers from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.  The team helps the local farmers to repopulate the former cassava lands with new disease resistant cassava, as well as teach the farmers how to recognize plant diseases and monitor the plants.

Cassava (It looks a lot like a sweet potato or yam.)Cassava (It looks a lot like a sweet potato or yam.) Arming the farmers with sturdy laptops, the GLCI program has a data capture system for the farmers to monitor disease epidemiology and farming trends, as well as a data management system to meet the evaluation, analysis and reporting needs of the GLCI.

GLCI will use its award money to purchase more miniature laptops to improve data exchange and communication across the region.




3.  Mobile Solar Computer Classroom


For the past year, Eric Morrow, founder and executive director of the Maendeleo Foundation, has been operating a Mobile Solar Computer Classroom in Uganda.  He is teaching Ugandan students, many of whom have no electricity in their schools or villages, to understand and use computers.  He teaches up to 100 students a day traveling from village to village with his tent, folding tables, chairs, and Intel-powered Classmate PCs, in his modified SUV with three solar panels on its roof.



The goal of the Mobile Solar Computer Classroom is to open opportunities in information technology to young persons in rural Africa, hoping to spur African-owned and African-operated computer services businesses to help boost local economies, decrease unemployment, and help alleviate poverty. During the past year, Morrow taught 1300 students and 100 teachers how to use and support the Classmate PCs.

The Maendeleo Foundation plans to use its Intel award money to begin a second mobile unit in Ruanda. requiring more teachers, equipment, and office and storage space.  



4.  Rural Livelihood Enhancement


The Rural Livelihood Enhancement project has not yet begun, but the foundation that proposed it, Winrock International, certainly has the credentials and the experience to see it through.  The non-profit foundation, operating since 1985, began as a US sponsored agricultural development organization, and it has supported agricultural technologies leading to responsible resource management for the support of poor rural communities throughout the world.

Bibek Chapagian is the Clean Energy Group Director in Nepal, and he will lead the Rural Livelihood Enhancement project to teach computer skills to rural citizens of communities in Nepal.  The project will use renewable energy from micro-hydro power stations and solar panels to provide energy to the low power computers, as there are no electricity grids in these areas. 

The ultimate goal is to provide Internet literacy to the young population during the day and to older members of these rural communities by night, bringing them information, education, and hopefully employment opportunities.

The Rural Livelihood Enhancement project will use its award money to help support the set-up of computer learning labs in four communities in rural Nepal.

The Intel Inspire - Empower Challenge winners certainly have my admiration. Great going on all of your endeavors!


Sources: IntelChallenge,, Blum Center, Food-Info, Maendeleo Foundation, Winrock International.