April 26, 2018 / 8:53 AM / a year ago

Aid sector eyes innovation with 3D-printed hands and braille 'Kindles'

LONDON, April 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kindle-like braille readers, 3D-printed prosthetic hands and eye scan payments for refugees are just some of the innovations on offer to improve aid operations around the world.

With nations slowly moving to meet an ambitious set of goals to conquer poverty, hunger and other international woes by 2030, aid groups are testing a wide range of advances such as drones and mobile apps to help speed up the process.

In February, Britain’s aid minister Penny Mordaunt and the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mark Green, urged humanitarian agencies to embrace innovation to deliver more value for money.

On Wednesday, a number of new technologies for the humanitarian sector were showcased at Aid and Trade London, a two-day event in the British capital. Here are some of them:


South Korean medical start-up Mand.ro uses 3D printing technology to produce low-cost, custom made prosthetic hands for victims of war.

Prosthetic arms can cost up to $40,000 - making them unaffordable for most people - particularly refugees in conflict areas, said Sangho Yi, Mand.ro’s CEO.

“It’s the price of a car,” Yi said.

Made largely of plastic, Mand.ro’s hands cost about $1,000 each. They are equipped with sensors that detect muscle activity and traduce it into six movements - allowing for writing, grabbing objects and giving a thumbs up, said Yi.


British company IrisGuard, provides eye-scan technology that has been adopted by United Nations agencies to register refugees and allow them receive cash assistance without the need of a card or a pin code.

To date the U.N. refugee agency has used the technology to register about 2.5 million people in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Syria, said Joe O’Carrol, IrisGuard vice president.

Once registered, refugees can withdraw money with a scan of their eyes. The systems reduces the risk of fraud and misappropriation of funds, making sure aid money goes directly to the people it is earmarked for.

When coupled with blockchain, the digital tool behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin, it also removes the need for banks and intermediaries to complete the transaction, reducing the agency’s operating costs.


Dot, a startup from South Korea, has developed an affordable Kindle-like device for people with visual impairment that it says can be used by schools and groups working to stamp out illiteracy in the developing world.

Globally, more than 250 million people, including 19 million children, suffer from blindness or another vision impairment, according the World Health Organisation.

Less than 10 percent know how to read braille, said Dot marketing manager Ahrum Choi, adding that children in poor countries often do not have access to braille books, which are often bulky and expensive. The size of a small agenda, Dot Mini, the company’s education device, costs $500 and is fitted with a speaker and a display made of small dots that move up and down to form braille words, reproducing texts downloaded online.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Jared Ferrie.

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