Innovation means make it dirty cheap

The Foldoscope, a do it yourself microscope costing 60c. Credit: Foldoscope

There are many ways to innovate, and some of them do not require a sparkling objects full of new features, rather a dramatical cost in delivering very specific functionality. 
This is the case for the Foldoscope, the result of work of a team at Stanford University that has wondered how to improve the microscope, a tool that has remained basically unchanged over the last hundred years. Getting more resolution out of a microscope go against physical laws of optics and the physical limits have already been achieved with better, and costlier, lenses. Improving on resolution has required changing the type of "light" used (moving onto electron and X-ray microscopy). 

The team at Stanford decided to take a different axes to innovate the microscope: making it dirty cheap.

They found a way to print the components of the "microscope" of a sheet of plastic laminated paper (costing a few cents) color coding them so that any person can "see" how to built it. They also printed the lens (it comes into two types, an expensive one supporting over 2000x magnification and costing 1$, and a cheaper one reaching 400x magnification costing 60c...).

What I found interesting is also the approach of Foldscope, the start up: such dirty cheap microscope can clearly be a smash in developing Countries becoming a standard equipment of health care personnel that works in the field and that will be able to look for sleeping sickness, malaria and several other diseases induced by microscopic bugs. However they suspected that several other applications would also benefit from the availability of such a microscope so they set up an open challenge to proposed these potential areas of use and have offered ten thousands Foldoscopes to try them out.

And guess what: they received plenty of requests from areas as diverse as agriculture, education, even from designers and communicators!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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