David Banks awarded grant


Congratulations to 3Helix alumnus David Banks who was awarded an NSF grant to pursue his dissertation research! David’s work on Open Source condom vending machines grew out of the 3Helix HIV/AIDS Awareness Project in Ghana. More information here.

Open Source Condom Vending Machine


Text from this article is originally from http://www.davidabanks.org/

Condoms are easy to find, but can still be intimidating to buy for most Ghanaians. One techno-social fix that we are currently exploring, is a system networked condom vending machines that will provide anonymity and privacy for the purchaser of condoms. These machines could be paired with the SMS Condom Locator to make them easier to find, but still private to use. Below you will find our recommendations for purchasing, building, and maintaining these machines so that local Ghanians can build businesses selling condom vending machines and similar devices.

The intended goals of the condom vending machine is to:

  1. Provide a safe space for individuals (especially women) to purchase condoms;
  2. Provide new entrepreneurial opportunities for Ghanaians;
  3. Increase the use of condoms thereby reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Project Overview

Machines should be wall-mounted and made of rugged material. Free-standing machines may also be possible but have to either be big and heavy enough to not be stolen and made of relatively cheap and plentiful materials to reduce costs. As a producer of condom vending machines, you have several options: You can develop one machine that is usable in a wide variety of environments: indoors, outdoors, high humidity, low light, high sale volume, or variety of product. This approach allows you to make one machine and do reasonably well in most markets. Another option is to specialize in a particular kind of machine or machines. One machine might do well in popular areas. This means it would hold lots of condoms, be very rugged, and quick to use. Others might be useful in small locations. That means it has a smaller capacity, but fits in many more places (think taxis, small shops, and bathrooms).

Condoms are an important part of combating HIV/AIDS. Reducing the spread of AIDS will help Ghana in all kinds of ways. While we want lots of people to make good, sustainable businesses, we also want to get lots of condoms out very quickly. That is why we are asking that you make all of your machines Open Source and license them under a Creative Commons license. Open source means that you make things like blue prints, technical specifications, source code, and construction diagrams available to anyone, while keeping certain rights over your property. The copyright you hold will be called a Creative Commons license and it is free and easy to obtain. Someone will need to work with copyright experts in Ghana to make sure Creative Commons licenses are compatible with Ghana’s existing copyright laws. You can learn more about how to do that here. This kind of licensing makes it much easier to trade and share ideas, collaborate, and can even help get a wider variety of products to the market faster than traditional methods.

Accepting Money Through Vending Machines

Our prototypes accept coins through a mechanical lever mechanism. It requires no electrical power and allows you to accept small amounts of money for single condom purchasing. We recommend accepting coins instead of paper money. We recommend sticking to coins only. Verifying the validity of paper money (not accepting counterfeits) while also keeping the cost of the machine low, will be difficult to do. It will probably require electricity and expensive scanning equipment. Developing methods of accepting different kinds of coins, making machines adjustable to accept different amounts of payments, and making the mechanism more reliable are all opportunities for innovation and development.

Condom Packaging

Our existing machine requires each condom to be individually wrapped in small boxes. The machine only accepts condoms in rectangular-shaped wrappers. Extra packaging increases costs per unit, and it is easier to find square-wrapper condoms than rectangular ones. Government hospitals usually get condoms in wrappers that are 6cm square. Aspiring vending machine manufactures should take condom sourcing into consideration. Your machine has to either accept a wide range of sizes and shapes, or a reliable source of a single kind of condom should be found.

“Off the Shelf” Vending Machines and Parts

There are many companies based in China that manufacture and sell mechanical vending machines. Unfortunatey, these machines are usually not made, marketed, or shipped to the African continent. While a local manufacturing industry is the main goal, these machines are worth looking at for inspiration.


GPS Capability

If you record the GPS coordinates of each machine you install we have developed a landmark-based locator service that works through text messaging. Users will text the names of nearby landmarks and automated service will send back a list of the closest vending machines. The database uses pre-entered GPS data for both vending machines and landmarks in order to triangulate the location of the user.

More Information


3Helix in Ghana


Photo Gallery

The 3Helix and undergrad groups arrived safely in Ghana. They got to work right away. Earlier this week, PI Ron Eglash sent this update and photos:

Will and Sam are working with a group of KNUST chemical engineering students on the solar biochar energy project. They are also looking into the possible use of biochar for water filtration, and applying the solar process to adinkra ink production. Ed and David had a great success with their condom machine: it sold out before they even left the clinic on the first day they installed it. They are looking into redesigning the machine to fit the lower-cost square variety. Lindsay and Samaria are having a great time teaching math to children here using our software for simulating kente cloth and adinkra stamped cloth designs.

Today we all visited a friend of mine, Gabriel Boakye,  who runs an adinkra print shop in the village of Ntonso—in the photos you can see Samaria with a couple of teachers who are pounding tree bark for ink, Sam trying out a kente cloth loom, and a group photo of everyone with Gabriel and his children.