The $300 House

Recently, the gang at SketchUp received a very interesting phone call from a gentleman named Christian Sarkar. He had initiated a challenge to see if someone could design a radically affordable $300 house for the poorest of the poor. At first, we were skeptical, but Christian’s passion, thoughtfulness and vision won us over and we thought SketchUppers were just the group up to this task. So here goes:

The challenge:
Design a simple dwelling that can be constructed for under $300 which keeps a family safe, allows them to sleep at night, gives them both protection from the elements and a sense of dignity.

The project is asking anyone – from designers and architects, students and professionals, to submit their designs in an effort to find affordable housing solutions for the poorest of the poor.

The $300 House project began as a challenge to businesses in a Harvard Business Review blog post by Dartmouth professor Vijay (V.G.) Govindarajan and co-author Christian Sarkar, an independent marketing expert.

Designers are encouraged to submit their entries for review and discussion. “We want designers and architects to see this as a business opportunity, not as a charity case study,” says Govindarajan. “This design challenge can help us get innovative people to focus on a vast un-served market waiting to be created across the world.”

Winners will be selected by the online community and an expert panel of judges – which includes Yves Behar, Rahul Mehrotra, Bob Freling, Stuart Hart, and others – along with celebrity judge David Hinds of reggae supergroup Steel Pulse.

In addition to a cash award, winners also receive a scholarship to a two-week workshop to both build actual prototypes of the $300 house, as well as operationalize a social venture to manufacture and distribute the homes.

The Economist recently featured the $300 House; here’s what they had to say:

Some emerging-world governments are beginning to realise that providing security of tenure is the only way to deal with the problem of ever-proliferating slums. And big companies that face stagnant markets in the West are increasingly fascinated by the “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. Bill Gross of Idealab reckons the market for cheap houses could be worth at least $424 billion. But in reality it is worth far more than that: preventing the Earth from becoming what Mike Davis, a particularly gloomy follower of Marx and Engels, has termed a “planet of slums”.

There are a little over 2 weeks left in the contest and you can take a look at some of the submissions here.

New Google Docs app for Android

People are using mobile phones to access information — from email to web browsing to editing documents. Part of getting work done on the go is being able to easily access, edit and share content, which is why we’re happy to announce the new Google Docs app for Android.

With this new app it’s easy to filter and search for your content across any Google account, then jump straight into editing docs using the online mobile editors. The app also allows you to easily share items with contacts on your phone, right from within the app.

The Docs app also allows you to upload content from your phone and open documents directly from Gmail. You can also add a widget to your home screen for easy access to three core tasks: jumping to your starred documents, taking a photo to upload, or creating a new document with one tap.

And my favorite feature: Using the app and your phone’s camera, you can turn photos with text into editable Google documents with the power of optical character recognition (OCR). Just create a new ‘Document from Photo’ or select the camera icon from the widget, and your converted document will appear in your documents list shortly after you snap the picture. You can also convert photos already stored on your phone by sharing them with the Google Docs app. OCR does a pretty good job capturing unformatted text in English but won’t recognize handwriting or some fonts – stay tuned, it will get better over time!

The Google Docs app is currently available in English and works on Android 2.1+ phones. Try it out by scanning the QR code below or by visiting Android Market.

Tested on Samsung Galaxy S!

Google Places

The Google Places  promotion that started in Portland in December, 2010 is now ongoing in four additional cities: Austin, Las Vegas, Madison and Charlotte.

As a part of the promotion, any business in any of those cities that claims their listing is eligible for a business kit that includes Google bling. Apparently several businesses are having difficulties with the ordering process and reported problems in the forums.

I was curious about the process and problems and managed to finagle an order via the online catalog. Here is a slide show of oder process and the (many) items available. Many of the same items available in Portland are also available in the four other cities although it is not clear if Google is using every promotional tactic that they used in there.

Unfortunately Google was out of stock on the neon signs and the fridge magnets but they apparently still have a good stock of the fortune cookies. Not sure exactly what they might be predicting….: