For many people in Africa, a thermometer is a luxury they just can’t afford. Even the healthcare workers usually diagnose fever by touching a person’s forehead with the back of their hand, a practice that leads to both over- and under-diagnosis. People are often advised to go to the hospital and take pills when they don’t need to, or they don’t get the urgent medical attention they need.

But now Delft University of Technology has developed a so-called ‘Frugal Thermometer’ for use in Africa. Cees van Beers is Professor of Management of Technical Innovations, and co-leader of the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa: “Frugal innovation means taking a complicated thing, and making it simple and affordable. It could, for example, be an object that already exists but then stripped of the additional bits and pieces that make it expensive. The technology that’s left can then be used as the basis of a simpler and cheaper version that can be produced locally.”

What’s more, a frugal product should be re-designed in order to tailor it to local requirements, as is the case with the Frugal Thermometer. “You can charge up the thermometer by winding a handle for a few seconds, and the display not only shows the temperature in numbers and degrees, but also a green smiley-face if a person’s temperature is normal, or a red unhappy smiley if they’re sick.”

Cees van Beers

Co-workers: Jan Carel Diehl and Ana Laura Rodriguez Santos