While certainly not an exhaustive list, here are nine ingenious innovations that made an impact in October.
1. The origami device that simplifies vision tests
An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide live with poor vision due to refractive errors, with many living in low-income regions without access to regular health care. The Folding Phoropter, a cost-effective eye-screening tool, hopes to make essential eye health more accessible to these populations.
The simple, disposable device can be assembled in seconds and allows for hassle-free eyesight diagnostics for refractive errors in low-resource regions. The device won second place at the Clearly Vision Prize competition, a global contest supporting technologies that address poor vision in developing countries.
2. The font helping dyslexic people who struggle to read
About 17 percent of the U.S. population has dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult to develop literacy skills. Dyslexie, a font designed to improve reading skills for people with dyslexia, hopes to solve that problem by making each character easier to recognize.
The font’s letters are bolder at the base with larger openings, improving how dyslexic people process words and text.
Though the font has been tested in schools for a couple of years, the company is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to expand its product virtually, hoping to make Dyslexie available as a Chrome extension, PDF converter font, an iOS and Android browsing font, and a downloadable typeface.
3. The robotic arm that allows people with spinal cord injuries feel
Fist-bumping the president is pretty cool. Fist-bumping the president with a robotic arm that you control with your mind is even cooler.
In mid-October at the White House Frontiers Conference, Nathan Copeland, the first man to have his sense of touch restored with a mind-controlled, sensory-enhanced robotic hand, fist-bumped the president. The robotic arm he used to greet the commander-in-chief is surgically wired directly to Copeland’s brain, allowing him to feel when the prosthetic is stimulated, even though his spinal cord is damaged.
Though Copeland didn’t get to keep the robotic arm after the greeting, he does get the honor of helping to advance tech that could enhance the lives of people with severe spinal cord injuries.
4. The robot helping to protect vulnerable coral reefs
About half of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has been lost over the last 30 years. The RangerBot — a low-cost, autonomous robot designed to help protect coral reefs — is making restoration and preservation of reefs easier and more efficient.
The RangerBot is an underwater vehicle that uses machine learning and computer vision to monitor water quality, map reefs and manage invasive species independently. The innovation, created by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, won a People’s Choice Award at the 2016 Google Impact Challenge in Australia.
5. The tiny skin patch that treats peanut allergies
In the U.S. alone, approximately 3 million people report being allergic to peanuts, one of the most common food allergies. A new skin patch to treat peanut allergies completed a one-year clinical trial in October, proving the patch is effective in protecting against accidental ingestion or exposure to peanuts.
The Viaskin Peanut Patch administers small amounts of peanut protein through the skin, helping the body and immune system get used to peanut exposure. The patch has been especially effective in young children, who are most often at risk.
6. The literacy apps helping to preserve Indigenous languages
More than 17 percent of the Indigenous languages spoken in Australia in 2005 were no longer spoken in 2014. But successfully preserving those languages is essential to protecting and celebrating Indigenous culture. To help address this problem, a new software system enables communities to save their traditional languages from extinction.
The Living First Language Project uses software powered by communities to record Indigenous languages, helping to foster traditional language learning for future generations through specialized apps.
The project has produced apps in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara so far, with more planned in the near future. The effort, spearheaded by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, was a finalist in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge in Australia in late October.
7. A wheelchair designed for people in developing regions
Wheelchairs are crucial assistive devices for many people with mobility-related disabilities. In developing regions, however, traditional wheelchairs are often unusable due to rough, rural terrain.
SafariSeat is a low-cost, all-terrain wheelchair propelled forward by hand levers and durable wheels. The product — which is made of repurposed bicycle parts — was designed to be manufactured and maintained in developing nations, creating a self-sustaining product.
SafariSeat began crowdfunding on Kickstarter last month, and plans to start production in Kenya in the coming months.
8. “Smart” fibers that could curb our reliance on fossil fuels
Chinese researchers announced the development of “smart” fibers this month that can be woven like cotton, able to produce and store solar energy to charge electronic devices. The fabric, which could be used for clothing, has the potential to help curb our reliance on fossil fuels for energy, eliminating planet-warming greenhouse gases in the process.
A palm-sized amount of the textile can be fully charged to 1.2 volts through solar energy. An iPhone charger, by comparison, delivers 5 volts. Researchers published their results in ACS Nano, a scientific journal of the American Chemical Society, in early October.
More dedicated research is needed, however, before the fabric makes its way into your closet.
9. The bandage that alerts doctors when it needs to be changed
For a large wound to properly heal, it needs moisture. If a medical professional changes a dressing too often, moisture levels can decrease, prolonging the healing process and risking infection. But a new bandage eliminates that guesswork for health workers, helping them to more effectively care for wounds.
The smart bandage, created by 13-year-old Anushka Naiknaware, is equipped with tiny sensors that help medical workers determine whether a dressing has dried out enough to be changed, without having to remove it from the patient.
Naiknaware and her innovation won the Lego Education Builder Award at the 2016 Google Science Fair in early October.