The Tech Museum of Innovation today named 25 laureates as winners of its 2008 Tech Award for using technology to "benefit humanity and spark global change." The awards are broken down into five categories (education, equality, environment, economic development and health); Tech Awards executive director Lee Wilkerson says that in November one winner in each category will receive a $50,000 cash prize during an awards ceremony in San Jose, Calif.

This year's education awards (started in 2000) recognize a technology in India that records classroom lessons and distributes the videos to areas of the country where there are few or no schools; a program that chronicles Arctic expeditions live via the Web; a Web site that delivers art lessons through interactive video conferencing; a site where lesson plans can be shared worldwide; and software that enables a PC to render two-dimensional images written using a special light pen on the computer screen into 3D images in real-time. [see picture]

(Image courtesy of 3D for All Computer Development Ltd.)

Equality awards went to a technology that turns waste products into bricks used for building in Egypt and Algeria; a nonprofit that trains builders and homeowners in developing countries how to build earthquake-resistant houses; a consortium that provides software that can read text in 20 languages to impaired people; a telephone-based information service for rural farmers in India; and a program that teaches rural Indian women how to cook more efficiently and make money selling unused compost.

The environment category recognizes a maker of genetically modified food crops that are more efficient to grow and have a less negative environmental impact than other genetically altered fare; an organization that helps African residents convert brush and other biomass into renewable energy; a group that builds, finances and manages electrical services in remote Latin American villages; a company that rents large central solar charging stations to entrepreneurs in Laos who then rent rechargeable solar-powered lights to local villagers; and a company that produces pure plant oil diesel engines used in remote areas of Africa and South America.

Economic award winners include an Indian company that has equipped more than 100 villages throughout the country to use agricultural waste to generate electric power; a company that weaves flexible photovoltaic panels into textiles to provide a source of light (and clothing) in remote areas [see picture]; NComputing, based in Redwood City, Calif., which offers technology that splits the power of a single PC so that it can be used by a number of people performing different tasks; a fund that developed a solar-powered irrigation system used in West Africa; and a nonprofit that provides machinery (including an automated peanut sheller) for a nominal fee to help automate food harvesting.

(Image courtesy of The Portable Light Project)

Health awards went to the creators of software that helps public health officials develop and distribute surveys to gather information about the health infrastructure in different areas; of a machine that processes grain in Senegal; of a syringe that locks the plunger once it is fully depressed so it can not be reused; of a test that rapidly detects multiple diseases in patients who rarely get checkups; and of an air monitoring system that measures concentrations of hazardous pesticides in the air.