The legend of MacGyver lives on in Frugal Digital. The research team can turn a mobile phone, lunchbox and flashlight into a low cost projector to facilitate education. And they can recreate annoying alarm clocks into useful health screening devices. Without a doubt, they are championing the tech upcycling movement.
The Frugal Digital initiative is an independent research group which originally started at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. The institute was co-founded by Vinay Venkatraman in 2006, and he in turn went on to initiate the research group that makes big things from small technology. Since then, he’s been working as concept and technology mentor, setting up a new technology consulting start up, Leapcraft, that now runs Frugal Digital, as well as inspiring countless individuals and communities by working towards a manifesto that includes: “Cost is the starting point, social impact is the goal, technology is the medium.”
Their latest design research project is called Tele-Panchayat. The team asked some crucial questions surrounding citizen participation in local governance, including ‘where do I go?’ and ‘does my opinion count?’ and helped find the answer with pay phones. By refitting pay phones with the ability to vote on local and national issues, citizens can become more engaged and provide their opinion in real-time. For example, if asked, “should water meters be installed in houses to keep a check on water wastage in the area?” citizens can vote for their desired outcome at a locally situated public phone. This information is then collected and passed on to the municipal corporators.
This idea of asking a question and seeking an answer from within our surroundings is something we can all do. All too often we hunger for the latest products and dump our technology rather than use the parts to create something new. Frugal Digital doesn’t think like that. Rather, they look at what a community has, then thinks about what they need, and then finds an inspiring and innovative intersection between the two.
Take a look at Vinay Venkatraman’s TED Talk here