Inventors and designers are in the business of making the world better. Thanks to these creative minds, we’ve got indoor plumbing, life-saving medical devices, computer … the list could go on forever.

The very act of inventing is an expression of wanting to solve a problem or improve someone’s situation. Why else would we go through all the trouble of sketching out ideas, working out flaws, trying different materials, raising funds to manufacture it, and the rest of the many steps involved in bringing a design to life?

In the spirit of the holidays, we thought we’d highlight a few of the inventors and inventions that have made major contributions to our world over the past couple of years.

Vaccines without needles

One of the winners of the 2015 Popular Science Invention Awards, these needle-less vaccine patches deliver vaccines without breaking the skin. Sure, it’s great for anyone who hates needles—but the real benefit of this incredible innovation is for those without access to sterilized conditions and refrigeration, like clinics in war zones, third world countries, and refugee camps. The patches, invented by biomedical engineer Kasia Sawicka, can go without refrigeration for 10 weeks. That’s much longer than typical vaccine solution.

The Ocean Cleanup Array

By now, we’ve all heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the horrifyingly large floating island of trash, mostly plastic, located in the Pacific Ocean (there are four others, as well, but the Pacific patch is the largest—it’s about the size of Texas). It’s the kind of thing that can make even the most optimistic environmentalist turn to despair. But now, a team headquartered in the Netherlands is set to make history by actually cleaning up the garbage via a floating barrier that directs the garbage toward a collection system. After studies, research expeditions, and several successful preliminary tests, the Ocean Cleanup Array underwent its first 3D test at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands in October.

Modular Artificial Reef Structure

It’s a good year for our oceans—this invention, an artificial reef structure that can be made to fit any seafloor, can help mitigate the effects of coral reef loss on plants and animals that live in and among them. The problem with most artificial reefs, however, is that they’re very costly and require an almost flat seafloor. That’s a far from ideal situation. So Alex Goad, an industrial design student in Australia, invented a modular structure flexible enough to be built over natural features like dips or hills. The durable pieces can be snapped together to create the perfect shape.

Punchcard Programmable Microfluidics

The inventor behind this impressively named micro medical lab grew up in Kenya, where he witnessed people suffering and dying from all kinds of preventable issues. Inspired by that background, Manu Prakash came up with the idea for a crank handle-operated medical lab. The apple-sized, music-box type device can handle complex chemical reactions like diagnosing a disease from a blood sample. And the devices only cost $5 each.


20 percent of the world’s population does not have access to electricity, meaning they often have to use dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps to light their homes. The GravityLight is a battery-free light that’s powered by the weight of a bag filled with rocks, sand, or other ballast. As the bag drops, the GravityLight lights up. It takes about 20 minutes for the bag to drop to the floor, and after that, all you have to do is pick up the bag and repeat the process.

The K2 Cookstove

In the developing world, smoke-related illnesses affect more people than malaria or HIV. The culprit? Pollutants from cookstoves, which release huge amounts of carbon monoxide into the air, sickening people and contributing to global warming. The K2 cookstove, invented by two UC Berkeley students, is designed to address that issue. The stove is 50 percent more efficient than standard cookstoves, meaning it needs 50 percent less fuel. In addition, it can burn plastic cleanly—this was important to the stove’s creators, as they noticed that people burned plastic bags to get their fires going during a pilot study in the Phillippines.

Do you have an idea that will make the world a better place? We at Pivot would love to help you make it a reality. Take a look at our product design and manufacture services, and then contact us!