Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Innovation in an Inhospitable Environment

So, I am in Maui this week (don’t worry, I’m keeping up with my schoolwork). I have been hanging out on the beach and seeing the sights, and along the way noticed that although the Hawaiian Islands are (obviously) incredibly beautiful, they are also in some ways not very hospitable to human inhabitants. There are beautiful beaches, and in some places fields of sugar cane as far as the eye can see. But because Maui is a volcanic island, there are also some places that look like the surface of the moon. And there are hazards caused by those volcanic cliffs that go beyond just volcanic eruptions; specifically, falling rocks from erosion and earthquakes. To combat this problem, Maui County has put up chain link mesh along certain cliff faces to contain falling rock. This chain link is comprised of an outer layer of regular chain link, like you would see on a fence, and an inner layer of interlocked steel circles, maybe a foot each in diameter, that help contain volcanic rocks when they crumble and fall. It does not look like it could hold an entire cliff together, but judging by the pile at the bottom of the fenced in area, it does seem to prevent rocks from falling into the road.

These fences brought to mind our reading at the beginning of the course about the engine incubators, and the video about GrameenPhone (which Pierre also referenced in his post this week). In this case, Maui County has come up with an innovation to deal with life in an inhospitable physical environment (and variations on this system are used around the world). GrameenPhone and the engine incubators were inhospitable economic and resource-limited environments respectively, but the motivation is the same- taking something you have and using it in a new way to solve a problem.

I can only find one photo of these fences on the internet, and haven’t been able to take any of it myself (most of these fences are along windy, two-lane, cliff-lined roads with nowhere to stop), but you can see above what they look like from afar.

Aloha everyone- see you next week!

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