Across Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa, processing the corn harvest is labor intensive: Families and friends gather to spend a day or two filling bags with the dried cobs, beating then to loosen the kernels, and then separating out the kernels from the cobs, or else simply removing the kernels by hand.
It would take one person about two weeks to complete the job alone, but thanks to a technology largely developed at MIT, there's a better, faster way.
Jodie Wu, an MIT senior in mechanical engineering, spent the summer traveling from village to village in Tanzania to introduce a new system for processing the corn: A simple attachment for a bicycle that makes it possible to remove the kernels quickly and efficiently using pedal power. The device makes processing up to 30 times faster and allows one person to complete the job alone in one day.
The basic concept for the maize-sheller was first developed in Guatemala by an NGO called MayaPedal, and then refined by Wu last semester as a class project in D-Lab: Design, a class taught by Department of Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Amy Smith. Now, thanks to Wu's efforts, the technology is beginning to make its way around the world.
Wu developed the new version of the device after being inspired by the work of Bernard Kiwia, who teaches appropriate technology in Tanzania for an NGO called the Global Alliance for Africa. Kiwia visited MIT in the summer of 2007 for the first International Design and Development Summit and returned to Tanzania greatly inspired by the workshop, and immediately began producing a variety of devices to address local needs.
Among these were several bicycle-powered devices, including machine-shop tools like drills and bandsaws. A simple power-transfer system bolted onto the bicycle's frame allows the bicycle to be used normally for transportation, but then quicly converted by switching the chain so that it can be adapted for a variety of tasks -- making or repairing furniture, sharpening knives or processing corn. Thus, the owner of a bicycle, with a small extra investment, can travel from village to village to carry out a variety of useful tasks. A simple bike thereby becomes an ongoing source of income.
Read the whole thing. And check out Wu's blog while you're at it.