5 Ways Technology is Changing the World

Flickr/Creative Commons/Pedro Szekely

1. Pigeon Air Patrol

Believe it or not, an army of pigeons wearing tiny backpacks with pollution sensors have been tweeting cleanliness statistics about London’s air. Created by Plume Labs, the Plume Air Report app aims to inform people about their surroundings and raise awareness of air pollution. The pigeon experiment ran for a limited time, but helped prove a concept. Now its creators are calling on humans to create a people-powered air monitoring network. Here’s how to join the pollution-backpack-sensor-wearing flock and if you want to check out those pigeon tweets just follow PigeonAir.

2. An app to end political apathy

How do you get young people interested in democracy and politics? Through an app of course! Political scientist Pia Mancini launched DemocracyOS with a group of friends who wanted to make politics accessible. When a new legislative proposal is tabled, the app translates all the legalistic jargon into plain language. Then people can vote on the plans. It’s open source, meaning anyone can contribute. Now it’s being used by governments to engage people and get their feedback on legislation.

Pia says: “What we’re doing is building a new set of institutions, or at least the scaffolding for new institutions to be built,” she says. “I think this is the challenge of our time – not only for my generation, but for all global citizens that know things can be done better.”

3. Twitter images for blind people

There’s a huge range of smart phones for those who are vision impaired. Most come with a screen-reader and zoom magnifier. That’s fine for ‘talking text’, but what about images? Last month Twitter added a new feature allowing people to add 420-character descriptions, known as alt-text, to the images in their Tweets. With assistive technology settings enabled, you can access the extra text. It aims to help make sense of Twitter’s increasingly image-filled feed, which can appear blurry to visually impaired people. This way, more people can be involved in the never-ending global discussion that is Twitter.

4. A wooden robot to help toddlers learn to code

It’s a real buzz when the first thing you code works. It’s the moment many people become hooked on programming. A lot of effort is being put into making sure people have that experience very early in their coding lives.Cubetto is a small wooden box on wheels that children as young as three are using to code. Using basic functions and loops, you can write a programme to tell Cubetto where to go. There are no words involved. Instead, the ‘code’ is made out of coloured wooden shapes on a board. Put them in different orders to send the robot on different paths.

5. UX For Change

A lot of people were raving about Nick Finck’s closing keynote speech at the DIBI Conference in Edinburgh in March. The Product Design Manager at Facebook announced a new project inviting web and app designers to mentor the next generation – for free. UX For Change is open to people who are new to tech and connects them with experienced professionals who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise.

Finck says: “There are many good causes and projects that help further humanity which lack the design talent to help them succeed. Meanwhile, the next generation of designers are coming into the market without enough demonstrated ability in their portfolios. Our intent is to match new designers to great causes and projects for better of humanity.”

It’s a lofty vision, built on a basic principle that without teaching, the world will stagnate. So if you’re looking for help or have skills to share, Finck’s project aims to put you in touch with someone. It’s all volunteer-based, so no money changes hands.