At IDEAS, bright thinkers join for a better tomorrow

From Bounce Imaging’s 360-degree situational awareness device to sending used laboratory equipment overseas, innovators showcased how to change the world at IDEAS Boston.
From Bounce Imaging’s 360-degree situational awareness device, pictured, to sending used laboratory equipment overseas, innovators showcased how to change the world at IDEAS Boston.

Wednesday’s IDEAS Boston conference on the campus of UMass Boston was full of, well, ideas on subjects ranging from three-dimensional printing to saving seafood.

It was cool, though before I get carried away I should mention that was a media sponsor and that a few Globies, including Innovation Economy columnist Scott Kirsner, served on the board. So of course I’m going to tell you it was cool.

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But, seriously, the sessions were packed with powerful thoughts about how to make the world smarter, safer, better.

A couple presenters who stood out to me: Seeding Labs founder Nina Dudnick, who collects and ships used lab equipment to developing countries, and Bounce Imaging founder Francisco Aguilar, whose baseball-size camera ball can be tossed into a dangerous area to give soldiers or police officers a view of whatever they face.

We wrote about Seeding Labs last year, when the Boston nonprofit hosted six scientists and researchers from Kenya, training them in new lab techniques and offering advice on how to write grant proposals. One of the visitors was a chemist named Mildred Nawiri, who is studying how certain vegetables that are indigenous to West Africa might help prevent cancer.

Dudnick pointed to Nawiri’s research Wednesday as an example of work that is unlikely to be done in the United States, because the vegetables she is studying do not grow here. And whatever benefits she might discover could go unrealized without modern equipment. Before Seeding Labs sent tools to Nawiri’s university, she was using techniques that Western scientists employed in the 1800s, Dudnick said.

“What are we losing when we lose the contributions of scientists like Mildred around the world?” Dudnick asked. “This talent really is everywhere. The problems that face us, like cancer, don’t respect boundaries drawn on a map, so why should our scientific community?”

Dudnick said in the last six years Seeding Labs has sent about 100,000 pounds of equipment to countries like Kenya, Jamaica, Uruguay and Cameroon.

Bounce Imaging is another Boston company we’ve covered in the past (), but that was in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Aguilar displayed a nonworking prototype.

Now, the former MassChallenge winner has a working model, called the Explorer, which is loaded with six cameras that snap hundreds of images when tossed into a dangerous place that officers or soldiers might not be able to enter safely. Corresponding software stitches the photos together to provide 360-degree views of the situation.

The Explorer also has a microphone and can be outfitted with sensors to detect hazardous chemicals.

Similar devices already exist, but “the problem is they’re generally way too expensive — certainly for a developing country — but even for a local search and rescue department,” Aguilar said. “And second, they’re pretty hard to operate.”

Bounce Imaging’s goal is to make its orb available for about $700 — inexpensive enough for police departments to purchase en masse.

“And everyone knows how to use a tablet or a smartphone, where we send the information, and everyone knows how to toss a ball,” Aguilar said.