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10 incredible innovations that improved the world in 2016

recycling cans
2016 may have been a terrible year in many ways, but there was still some undeniable good to come out of the past 12 months. For proof, look no further than the year’s most impactful innovations, offering solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. From a futuristic bus that glides over traffic to a £0.00 cup saving countless babies’ lives, inventors developed ingenious gadgets and ideas that tackle inequality and improve the world for millions of people.In no particular order — and certainly not an exhaustive list — these 21 social good innovations had a massive impact this year.

1. An edible drone delivering humanitarian aid

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Image: Windhorse Aerospace

The only thing cooler than a drone is an edible drone — especially one that saves lives.

An inexpensive drone prototype, called Pouncer, was designed to help deliver humanitarian aid to remote regions with impassible roads. The drone doesn’t just carry essential items for relief, but also features a plywood frame for firewood, wings packed with food and protective covers that can double as shelter.

Windhorse Aerospace, the company behind Pouncer, designed the drone in an effort to revolutionize aid in the aftermath of natural disasters. The team hopes the prototype will become a reality in 2017.

2. A wheelchair made for people in developing countries


For people with mobility-related disabilities, wheelchairs can be essential. But for people in developing regions, traditional wheelchairs are often unusable on the rough, rural terrain.

SafariSeat, an all-terrain wheelchair, is a low-cost solution to this often overlooked problem. The durable wheelchair is propelled forward by hand levers and features sturdy wheels. It’s also made entirely of repurposed bicycle parts, designed to be manufactured and maintained in impoverished regions.

SafariSeat began crowdfunding on Kickstarter in November, and plans to start production in Kenya in 2017.

3. Edible food packaging made with milk

Forget plastic packaging, and say hello to milk protein film.

To help curb the globe’s reliance on plastic for storing and preserving food, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers announced the creation of a new biodegradable film in August, which is made of the milk protein casein.

The edible film is estimated to be 500 times better than plastic packaging at keeping food fresh, keeping oxygen away from food more effectively.

4. A bot that helps low-income families fight eviction

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When expensive lawyers won’t fit your budget, getting legal aid can seem impossible. But that’s where robots come in.

Stanford undergrad Joshua Browder released a bot called DoNotPay in August, which helps those unable to afford legal aid fight evictions.

To use DoNotPay, a person facing eviction has a simple instant message-like conversation with the bot, which acts as a virtual lawyer. Based on the conversation, the bot decides how to best serve the user, usually crafting a claims letter based on the information provided.

Through this computerized consulting process, the DoNotPay bot can potentially help low-income users save hundreds of dollars in legal fees.

5. A prosthetic that can be custom-molded in two hours

Molding a custom prosthetic usually takes several weeks, numerous appointments and lots of money. For low-income amputees worldwide, access to these prosthetics is simply impossible. In fact, 80% of amputees worldwide go without modern prosthetics.

German startup AMPARO created an alternative, drastically simplifying the process of custom-fitting a prosthetic to an artificial limb. The innovation, dubbed the Dignity Socket, is re-moldable, with the ability to adjust to big or small changes in limb size for more comfort. It can also be custom-molded to a wearer in as few as two hours.

The prosthetic was one of three winners at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase in June.

6. A massive device that cleans coastlines
coastline cleaning device


An ocean-cleaning innovation finally became a reality in 2016 after five years of research, prototypes and creativity.

Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat first proposed an ocean cleanup machine at only 17 years old. But a prototype of the buoyant boom-like device — called Boomy McBoomface — was finally put into action in June, thanks to more than $10 million in funding.

Slat’s device floats along a coast and creates an artificial coastline, catching debris on the surface of the ocean. A connected conveyer then lifts the garbage into a central tower, where it is sorted for disposal.

7. The high-tech toy helping autistic children socialize

hightech toy image pink

Leka is way more than a cute-as-can-be smart toy. The interactive and multi-sensory device is more like a buddy specially designed for autistic children, encouraging them to develop autonomy through independent play.

The round toy plays sounds and music, speaks, lights up, and vibrates to engage children in multi-sensory activities. Leka is also customizable, which means it can be tailored to fit a child’s needs and comfort.

The toy completed a successful Indiegogo campaign over the summer, raising more than 152% of its goal.

8. A reversible tent that provides shelter to homeless populations

tent for homeless

For many homeless people, one of the biggest challenges of living without stable shelter is confronting extreme weather.

WeatherHYDE is a reversible tent that protects homeless populations and families in developing nations against all types of weather. One side of the tent features reflective panels, which cools the interior down in extreme heat. The other side protects against severe cold by insulating the tent, trapping in body heat to warm up the interior.

A Kickstarter campaign to fund production and distribution of 500 tents to families in need ran throughout November, receiving more than $145,000 worth of funding.

9. A device that helps the Deaf community detect danger

deaf device

If an alarm is meant to indicate danger, what happens when you can’t hear the warning? It could be dangerous — or even deadly.

Furenexo, a startup based in New York, launched a Kickstarter campaign in July to build SoundSense,  a small wearable that is designed to help deaf individuals detect loud sounds and alerts. The device is triggered by warning sounds, like sirens and car horns, transforming the audio alerts into felt vibrations.

The device will only cost $30 — significantly lower than similar devices.

10. The biodegradable six-pack rings that feed sea life

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Image: Saltwater brewery

Sick of seeing sad sea creatures stuck in plastic six-pack rings? You — and your aquatic friends — are in luck.

incredible innovations image

Florida-based Saltwater Brewery invented a biodegradable and compostable version of the classic plastic rings that makes use of their natural brewing byproducts, like wheat and barley. The best part: The rings are also edible, meaning sea life can munch on them without fear.

The six-pack rings went viral in May, when the prototype was first announced.

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