12 Greatest Low-Tech Inventions

1Adjustable Glasses

British inventor Josh Silver began working on eyeglasses that can be tuned by the wearer in 1985. His goal is to bring better vision to a billion people worldwide who cannot afford, or don't have access to, an optometrist. He has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device's tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.
Silver's goal is to distribute a billion pairs of his adaptive glasses to poor people by 2020 .

Already, 30,000 pairs have been given out in 15 countries. Her hope is to get the cost of manufacturing each pair down to a dollar each.

2Non-electrical Refrigerator

Mohammed Bah Abba made a really cool invention, which won a Rolex Award of $100,000 –a refrigerator than runs without electricity. Here's how it works. You take a smaller pot and put it inside a larger pot. Fill the space in between them with wet sand, and cover the top with a wet cloth. When the water evaporates, it pulls the heat out with it, making the inside cold. It's a natural, cheap, easy-to-make refrigerator.

Evaporative fridges are a relatively well-tested, proven, low-tech approach to cooling. They can cool products, food and beverages at about 15-20 C below ambient temperatures. They are most appropriate in hot, dry (not humid) climates

3Amphibious Bike

Li Weiguo is the man who designed and built this floating bicycle, and the girl riding it is his daughter Li Jin. His amphibious bicycle has eight water buckets that act as pontoons and adjustable vane wheels that provide the driving power. It might not look as good as other custom made bikes, but at least you can ride it on water and land alike, and that's the whole point. The amphibious bike was presented on May 30 2009, in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

4Eye-contact mirror for web cam

"Here is looking at you, Kid" by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl, is a low-tech way of fixing the annoying aspect of video conferencing where participants are not making "eye-contact" through their web cameras. Rather than looking at the camera, the typical person stares at their screen, thus not making eye contact with the person they are chatting with. The device is made of a mirror, some glass with mirror foil, and a piece of cardboard, in order to mimic what a teleprompter does to text for a TV news anchor. The result allows the viewer's eye contact to connect with the person and a final manufacturer fix might be to integrate the camera behind the LCD screen so that you can actually look directly at the other person.

5Moped Cone

This invention, despite of its simple brilliance and usability (the Swedish Army had tons of these for their motorcycle messengers in the day), was overrun by newer technology - like the motorcycle helmet with covering visor. The moped cone over time infiltrated into civilian life, and although it was mocked and ridiculed it was pretty smart in its simplicity. When riding a moped or motorcycle in the winter, and as long as you kept a reasonable speed, the cone helped form a cushion of warm air in front of your face, preventing the cold winter air from entering and deep-freezing your face. This surely saved a lot of noses from frostbite. In the summer the cone would prevent raindrops or insects from hitting your face, but as far as we can remember they were mostly used in the winter.


Under the sign of his "eco-gym," Gimnasio Ecológico Lumen, Manuel de Arriba Ares has turned the demon of entropy on its head. Making use of the very waste and byproducts of the modern entropic economy, Arriba has created a truly practical monument in the form of a supremely low-tech gymnasium. Its fitness machines, created with a good deal of physical effort over three years from raw and junked materials such as wood, rope, and rubber, directly mirror both the design and functionality of those found within its wasteful counterpart.

Located in the small town of Valdespino de Somoza in the north of Spain, Arriba offers free access for all to this functional work of Art Brut, a wonderful Heath Robinsonesque assemblage constructed from remnants of strollers, boats, bicycles, and automobiles salvaged from neighboring dumps. Helpful signs, painted on the tarnished white remnants of refrigerators, instruct the would-be eco-gymnast on exercises and operation of the intricate machinery, reflecting Arriba's knowledge and experience over many years as a physical education teacher.

7Rolling Water Container

We take running water for granted, but millions of people in the developing world are forced to carry buckets of water home (sometimes from miles away). Innovation like this Q Drum rolling container makes their lives a little easier.

8Low-tech scuba dive system

Using a pipe connected to a rudimentary oxygen compressor, divers from Bangladesh can go as low as 200ft in some of the world's most fast-flowing rivers.

It's a kind of low-tech scuba diving: the divers use a pipe connected to a compressor which is normally used for blowing up tyres. They go out into the middle of the river on a boat, tie themselves to a rope and dive in. The idea is that if they get into any kind of trouble, they pull on the rope to indicate that there is an emergency.

9Knitting Privacy Protector

A simple, low-tech solution to the problem of public laptop privacy designed by artist Rebecca Stern

10Breath Detector

A very low-tech instrument to detect if you have bad breath.

11Batphones (hear amplifier)

The name alone makes these worth writing about: Batphones. The low-tech hearing aid is an update to simply cupping your hand to your ear. The side “scoops” channel sound from in front directly into the ear, much as a satellite dish focusses the signal into the antenna. Matthias Ries' concept isn't meant to be a replacement for regular hearing aids, but more as an enhancement for people talking in loud places, or those with a small amount of hearing loss.

12Japanese Hot Tub

No bubbles, no jets, no electricity, nothing to break, just deep hot water up to your neck. Asians have known for thousands of years the benefits of sitting alone immersed in hot water. Basically, it is just a plywood box with a cool Oriental name (Furo). At first glance it seems like you may have your knees in your mouth, but this is not the case, due to your natural buoyancy—you feel so good you just don't care. You get the same benefits of a hot tub, but none of the contamination consequences, plus you get to be alone and not feel completely antisocial.