Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Introducing the 2013 Alva Fellows

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Earlier this year we launched our second annual Alva Fellowship program, providing cash grants to empower the next generation of inventors to take action on their ideas. With ideas spanning from mobile health innovations to energy efficient lighting to water purity solutions, we received a truly inspiring range of proposals from young innovators striving to change the world for the better.

Presented with our friends at GE, the Alva Fellowships support three innovators under 30 years of age who have demonstrated remarkable potential to create useful and innovative new products or services that will make an impact on the world. Without further ado, here are our three 2013 Alva Fellows!

Meet the 2013 Alva Fellows

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Kevin Kung // Takachar

InnovationBy turning municipal organic waste into charcoal, Takachar aims to make a powerful impact on developing cities like Nairobi in Kenya. The project will reduce unmanaged urban waste and energy poverty, and increase the income of local waste-pickers.

The concept: The one-sixth of the world that lives in urban slums faces a litany of problems: no formal waste disposal, no source of fuel, and bleak job prospects. Takachar aims at all three issues by empowering communities to convert organic waste into charcoal briquettes that can be burned for a safe, reliable form of fuel. Furthermore, the group is striving to empower local entrepreneurs in the act of collecting and selling briquettes. Already deployed in a handful of test communities, Kung has seen promising results.

Kung hopes to further perfect the process, so it can rapidly scale to other communities in need. “I realized that many great design innovations ended up sitting on the lab shelves,” he wrote in his application, “because there were no at-scale strategies for dissemination.”

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Ethan Frier & Jonathan Ota // Project Aura

InnovationProject Aura is a dynamic bicycle wheel lighting system, designed to increase road safety and highlight the intrinsic beauty of a bicycle in motion. The system responds to the rider’s speed, glowing a cautionary red at slow speeds and fading to white at cruising speeds.

The concept: As cities continue to develop bicycle lanes, many people are increasingly using a bike as a primary means of transportation. However, the current crop of safety gear leaves much to be desired. “When was the last time you went to ride your bike and thought, ‘Yes! I get to wear a helmet today!’ … Probably never,” the duo wrote in their application. By creating a unique lighting system that mixes LEDs with a speed detector, Project Aura aims to make bike safety more beautiful and more appealing. Beyond its aesthetics, it’s safer, as typical bike lighting isn’t highly visible from a side view of the biker, creating a safety risk when crossing intersections.

Both Ota and Frier are graduating from Carnegie Mellon this Spring with degrees in industrial design and plan to turn their prototypes into a full-time entrepreneurial effort in Pittsburgh.

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Juhee Bae // OpenIR

InnovationOpenIR (Open Infrared) democratizes infrared satellite data by making it available in an easy-to-use, web-based map format. It supports citizen voices, ecological sustainability, and public safety by highlighting environmental features not easily seen through true-color, aerial images.

The concept: Google Maps has revolutionized the way we can view the world around us. However, there’s a huge amount of data that is currently inaccessible with in-browser mapping tools. OpenIR aims to make infrared information just as easily digestible as getting directions to the grocery store. “Currently, there is no system that easily allows us to examine these linkages through different kinds of spectral satellite image analysis,” Bae wrote in her application.

Infrared can give us important indicators of weather patterns and climate change information. Currently, the information is only available through archaic systems for government and researchers but OpenIR hopes to free the data to be used by developers, journalists, and the general public. As an example, the OpenIR team used its imagery to identify which parts of New York City were particularly susceptible to flooding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

All of our winning Alva Fellows will receive:

  • A $13,500 seed grant to go towards executing their proposed project
  • A complimentary ticket to the 2013 99U Conference, held May 2rd and 3rd in New York City
  • A $1,500 travel stipend to be used to attend the Conference or visit GE’s campus
  • Access to GE’s manufacturing expertise and educational resources

Congrats to Takachar, Project Aura, and OpenIR, and thank you to everyone who applied. We look forward to seeing the incredible crop of Alva Fellowship applications next year! And for further inspiration, see last year’s winners here.

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