Fires are common in South Africa’s informal settlements - it’s estimated that there are about 5,000 every year. They’re often caused by faulty wiring or open flames used for cooking or heating. Because the shacks are crammed in so tightly the flames can spread with frightening speed and destroy hundreds of homes.
So a group of entrepreneurs invented a smart fire alarm for just these sorts of places. It has a sensor that spots fast increases in heat and then sends alerts to all the neighbours so they can quickly take action. They also designed insurance to help people who are affected by these fires rebuild and replace what they’ve lost. We go to one of these settlements in Cape Town and find out what difference it has made to the lives of the people living there.
Reporter: Richard Kenny
How to save the banana
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits on the planet - more than 100 million tonnes of them are eaten every year. But on banana plantations on four continents, a deadly fungus is creeping through the soil and destroying the plants.
Some say the end is nigh for the banana. But from Australia to Colombia and from the Philippines to the Netherlands, work is going on to stop that happening.
We meet the farmers, scientists and gene technologists trying to find a way to save the fruit.
Reporter: Daniel Gordon
(Photo Credit: BBC)
The future of freight
Billions of tonnes of goods are moved by lorry every year – everything from food and clothes to building materials, electronic gadgets and toys.
Most heavy-duty vehicles run on diesel and they account for a quarter of the EU’s CO2 emissions from road transport. But making eco-friendly lorries and trucks is challenging. Big vehicles need big batteries, which currently take too long to charge and take up too much room.
So Germany is trying out a few alternatives. The eHighway system enables lorries to connect to overhead electricity cables, just like trams and trains. And while lorries are connected, smaller on-board batteries could be charged up too to power the final leg of a journey.
The country is also investing in another technology: hydrogen. Fuel cells convert the gas into electricity and the only emissions from these vehicles are water vapour and warm air. Seventy-five hydrogen fuel pumps have already opened across the country.
Reporter: William Kremer
Gaming for good
Video games are often blamed for time-wasting and violence, but there’s a group of people proving this stereotype wrong.
We meet the scientists behind a game designed to speed up finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, and we speak to a teenager who plays it because “it’s something I can do to help people in my spare time”.
Citizen science projects like this have had some remarkable successes, and gamers have been credited with significant research such as figuring out the structure of a protein that shares similarities with HIV.
Fans of this model believe gaming has a huge part to play in the future of problem solving.
Produced by Kathleen Hawkins
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
The town rethinking the future of energy
The city of Vaasa in western Finland has built a reputation as a centre of innovation, where energy companies are working together to try to find solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.
Here, there’s a quiet conviction that climate change can be stopped and a belief that technology emerging from this area will help us make the shift to renewable forms of energy.
We meet the people behind a giant engine that can run on a variety of non-fossil fuels, hear about a portable plant that turns waste into energy and speak to scientists developing man-made fuels to replace oil and gas.
We also check out a company creating a new type of battery which it hopes will one day be able to store enough power to meet the needs of a whole city.
Reporter and producer: Erika Benke
(Photo credit: BBC)