By George Avalos, Contra Costa Times
A water purifier the size of a backpack, digital tools to help with online reading, a machine that can produce eyeglasses inexpensively, an app to combat wildlife smuggling, and online medical education for pediatric care providers are among the new technologies invented by the winners of this year's Tech Awards.
The best of Silicon Valley high-tech creativity that benefits others were honored Thursday night at an annual awards gala at the San Jose convention center.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo kicked off the gala by noting that the event celebrates innovation in all its forms.
"We hail those who create technology," Liccardo told the gathering. "By cultivating creativity, nurturing innovation, and by unleashing our inner geek, we can move the world."
A fresh shift has emerged in the mix of the laureates selected for awards, according to Leslie Zane, director of the Tech Awards and an official with The Tech Museum, which sponsors the event. For the first time, developers of apps were honored as laureates. Previously, the winners were people who invented breakthrough devices.
Four apps were recognized as laureates, Zane said.
"That hasn't happened before," she said.
Those apps are the BeelineReader, a digital tool that guides people's eyes for online reading; WCS China Wildlife Guardian app, which combats illegal smuggling of wildlife in China; what3words, a global addressing system for the 75 percent of the world's population without a mailing address; and OPENPediatrics, an online medical education app for pediatrics.
Still, devices garnered a healthy share of the awards for 2015.
One of the winning device-oriented technologies is the DayOne Response, a lightweight, backpack-sized emergency water purifier system.
The backpack can be filled with tainted water and with some additives, it can produce pure water in about 30 minutes, said Tricia Compas-Markman, founder and chief executive officer of San Francisco-based DayOne Response.
"We collect the water, treat it, purify it, dispense it as pure water, all in the one backpack," Compas-Markman said. "You can see the water turn from turgid and tainted looking to clear and pure."
Another device is a machine that can produce a pair of glasses for about $1 in manufacturing cost. It was developed by Germany-based OneDollarGlasses. The glasses typically can be sold for $4 to $6 each.
"We think there are 150 million people who cannot afford eye glasses, and we think that is a loss of $120 billion in economic activity," said Martin Aufmuth, founder and principal executive with OneDollarGlasses. "That's a lot of people who can't drive, study, go to work, function properly because they can't see properly."
San Francisco-based BeelineReader hopes to solve reading issues for an array of people by using a rotation of colors on lines of text to help guide the eye from the end of one line to the start of another line. Beeline has landed venture financing from Intel Capital.
"We have heard from some dyslexic people who call our app a life-changing event," said Andrew Cantino, chief technology officer with BeelineReader.
The BeelineReader system is being made available to many libraries in California now that the company has reached an agreement with the California Library System to distribute the app through that system.
"They will load it in nearly every public library in California," said Nick Lum, founder of BeelineReader.
Many of the devices and apps are targeted at people in emerging regions such as Africa and Asia.
"We are very pleased with the quality of the laureates this year," The Tech's Zane said.
The innovative spirit of the gala was underscored by a huge chandelier that changed colors depending on applause, noise and music in the room where the gala was held.
Organizers of the Tech Awards urged attendees to help the gala go viral, by using Twitter and Facebook to raise the profile of the event.
"These amazing people make me feel humble because they use their technology to advance humanity," said Richard Taylor, a senior vice president with Intel.
©2015 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.