NEWS February 16, 2024

Promising Prototypes to Watch in 2024

High-altitude balloons for mitigating natural disasters, a DNA test for detecting wildlife trafficking and disease, a portable milk pasteurizer and recycled plastic construction materials are among the promising prototypes to watch in 2024. 

High-altitude balloons for mitigating natural disasters, solar power and safe water in a single, off-grid unit, a portable milk pasteurizer and recycled plastic housing are among the promising prototypes to watch in 2024.

We surveyed our global network of engineering and design experts seeking their recommendations for high-potential products in development. These prototypes and product updates may one day scale, improve lives in underserved communities and work to conserve the natural world. This year’s promising prototypes come from Engineering for Change’s Impact Projects, Autodesk Foundation, E4C’s Solutions Library, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase, Techstars pre-seed investors, Factor[e] Ventures, New Energy Nexus COP28 and other repositories of ideas, innovation and startups advancing technology for sustainable development.

These are promising prototypes to watch in the year ahead.

See what we were watching last year in E4C’s Promising Prototypes of 2023

The Nabit Environment DNA Diagnostics

Photo: Conservation X Labs (used with permission)

The Nabit by Thylacine Biosciences democratizes analysis of environmental DNA, allowing anyone to take samples and search for evidence of wildlife trafficking, plant disease, invasive or endangered species and other environmental risks in the field. Thylacine has partnered with organizations that field test the device, including the USDA’s Zoonotic and Emerging Disease Research unit, among others. Field tests validate diagnostic assays that analyze water, swabs of plant or animal tissue and other media that contain DNA.

Thylacine is a department within Conservation X Labs headed by the biomedical and electrical engineer Hal Holmes. Holmes and Thylacine develop their own DNA tests, but the Nabit is designed to run tests that others create, as well.

“We have a process for helping partners make their assays field-ready for use in Nabit,” Holmes told E4C.

Thylacine won the 2023 Roddenberry Prize for early-stage science and technology ventures.

Balloon Tech, Inc’s High-Altitude Wildfire Alert

Balloon Tech, Inc, a Good Machine venture studio portfolio company, lifts platform to high altitudes to peek down on the earth and atmosphere below and capture data. The goal at the moment is to serve as an early warning system for wildfires. Engineering for Change’s Fellows supported the development of the prototype by evaluating the high-pressure equipment’s suitability for deployment as an in-flight balloon control system.

The challenge is in the equipment’s capacity to operate in a low-pressure environment. Testing found that off-the-shelf components did not meet the requirements and design modifications are underway. Balloon Tech Inc is in “stealth mode,” according to Good Machine, bunkered down developing their next iteration.

For more: E4C’s Impact Projects

The Safi Handle Milk Pasteurizer

A startup in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) is developing the Safi Handle to regulate milk pasteurization. Aimed at farmers and anyone in East Africa with access to raw milk, the handle takes the guesswork out of pasteurization. Pasteurization is the heating of milk or any liquid to the point that the heat kills pathogens. The handle attaches to a pot, dips sensors and a whisk into the milk and takes the temperature while the cook turns a crank to stir. The device signals success when the milk has reached a certain temperature for a specified period. The device is compact, human-powered and supports pasteurization in less than three minutes.

Pathogens that the device helps to remove include MERS, a coronavirus that can be deadlier than COVID19.

Safi won ASME ISHOW USA in 2023. The ISHOW leadership selected the Safi for this list for its strong potential to scale and have a positive impact. The team continues research and development.

Earth Enable Earth-Block Housing

Engineering for Change Fellows worked with Earth Enable to improve their designs of earth-block housing and build new housing prototypes for construction in rural Rwanda. The eco-friendly designs optimize the use of land and enhance safety. The researchers designed 3D models of the prototypes using software like AutoCAD, Revit, and 3Dsmax to visualize and analyze construction scenarios.

Then the teams conducted surveys to inform the final design and prototype presentation that included hand-built models.

For more: E4C’s Impact Projects with Earth Enable

MPost Postal Address Creator

Photo: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Need an address? The answer is ‘yes’ for many people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Physical addresses are not uniformly assigned to homes and buildings, which can make it tough to get mail. MPost has a straightforward solution: The venture converts a mobile phone number into a formal postal address.

MPost is one of the ventures in the portfolio of the pre-seed investor Techstars.

Smokeless Exhaust Tube

A team from Doha, Qatar, is developing the smokeless tube can eliminate all of the smoke (or particulate) emissions from diesel engines, and up to 30 percent of greenhouse gases. Diesel emissions are a major global pollutant, causing cancer, asthma and other disease.

The Smokeless Exhaust Tube won ASME ISHOW Kenya 2023, and ISHOW leadership called it a possible game changer.





Fuselage Innovations agricultural drones

Young woman learning how to pilot her drone in, female using, piloting, fly drone on field of sunflowers, summer, agriculture.

Fuselage Innovations deploys drones to support sustainable farming in India. The drones gather data and spray crops to increase productivity and reduce reliance on expensive fertilizers and pesticides.

Fuselage was selected as one of 100 solutions for inclusion in the New Energy Nexus COP28 Climate Tech Startup Accelerator. See the full cohort in NEX COP28’s spreadsheet.


See a fuselage drone in action.

Poresi Builder: A Block Manufacturer Using Plastic Waste

Timao Group’s Poresi Builder converts plastic bags and other plastic waste into life-sized Lego-like blocks and posts for construction. Its modular design allows for quickly building structures that range from homes to shops to classrooms.

The Poresi Builder was a finalist in ASME ISHOW Kenya 2023. ISHOW leadership applauded the device’s usage of recycled materials to build affordable housing.

Ecolife Foods iTES Cold Storage

(Left to right) Praise Tukamwebonera, electrician and project engineer for Ecolife; Sirage a recent mechanical engineering graduate of Makerere University; Ian, mechanical engineering graduate of Makerere University; Kyle Gaiser, mechanical engineer with Ecolife Foods; and Gavin, mechanical engineering graduate of Makerere University engage in refrigeration and air conditioning hands-on training at the Ecolife Foods design summit.

Ecolife Foods is developing a cold room for storing crops, aimed at reducing postharvest loss among rural farmers in Uganda. The cold room is made of locally sourced and recycled materials, resulting in a cooperative, affordable, and sustainable design. The storage solution was a finalist at ASME ISHOW Kenya 2023, and the design won the Innovate for Impact: Siemens Design Challenge by Engineering for Change and Siemens in 2020, taking the prize in the Zero Hunger category.

For more: Why Ugandans Avoid Refrigerating Produce (and How to Fix It)

Parametric Models to Convert 3D Scans into Upper Limb Prostheses

Engineering for Change Fellows assisted the India-based startup Life and Limb in developing a process for building custom upper-limb prostheses. The resulting products have sophisticated features to meet individual patients’ needs.

Fellows worked in collaboration with the Life and Limb team to establish a workflow for capturing hand data through 3D scanning. Together, the researchers created 3D models of upper limb prosthetics and refined them through parametric modelling techniques. The 3D models were then fine-tuned and optimized to ensure a precise fit and functional design for each patient. The models were recorded in an Autodesk Fusion 360 workspace and delivered to the Life and Limb team, along with the efficient design workflow guidelines and streamlined processes.


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