SF firm engineering solutions for developing world

A unique San Francisco firm is dedicated to solving problems around the world, not for millions of dollars, but hundreds.
November 1, 2013 7:32:51 PM PDT
A unique San Francisco engineering and design firm is dedicated to solving problems around the world, not for millions of dollars, but hundreds. Fulfilling that goal takes both dedication and innovation, hence the name D-Rev, short for design revolution.

For CEO Krista Donaldson, that revolutionary engineering is about changing the world, one life at a time.

"This is Kamal," she explains as she points to a photo. "Kamal was one of the first men fitted with our knee,"

On the wall of D-Rev are dozens of others photos of the young people she and her team have helped to walk again.

"I thinks it's creative problem solving at the end of the day, and to me that's what design is," says Donaldson. "If you have an environment where you can dig in and you're able to prototype, you can pull things apart, that enables that creative problem solving process."

That environment is a bright, sunny warehouse space in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood. Here, engineers work on solutions like the Re-motion Jaipur knee, originally conceived by students at Stanford University. It's an artificial joint that's stable, durable and made out of plastic.

"We looked at what was on the market, and saw it was titanium, stainless steel, very expensive metals," says project member Vin Narayan. "We thought we could take that same design and make it out of a plastic material that would be much easier to manufacture, at a much lower cost."

How much lower? Versions are now produced for about 80-dollars a knee. Narayan says it's designed with an extended range of motion to allow users to sit cross legged and adapt to other realities of the developing world.

"They traditionally use pit toilets," he points out. "So in order to do something as simple as go to the bathroom, you need to be able to squat. So we knew that was a really important requirement in the knee design."

Simple, affordable and durable are engineering principals here. Garrett Spiegel began his career in college repairing donated medical equipment. He's put some of that expertise into a light therapy lamp, used to treat babies with jaundice.

"For instance we don't have a cooling fan in this device, so it doesn't require replaceable air filters. The fan can't break which is one of the common components that does," he says.

The price -- about 22,000 -- Indian rupees.

"Which is the equivalent of about $400," says Spiegel.

The D-Rev team operates as a non-profit, and has brought it products to India, Africa, Asia and Central America. It's declared mission is to improve the health of people who survive on less than four dollars a day. For CEO Krista Donaldson, the rewards of doing that are priceless.

"If you ask my colleagues, they say I cry pretty regularly, but it's really empowering. We look at challenging problems and we say we can do this; we're eternal optimists that way," says Donaldson

D-Rev and its partners have other products in development including a solar concentrator-- a device powerful enough to charge batteries and small electrical devices in areas without reliable electricity.

One additional note: On November 14th, The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose will recognize the D-Rev team and their Brilliance jaundice light with the Nokia Health Award for their continued efforts in using technology and innovation to improve lives.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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