Physical Apps for Developing Countries


Well over a billion people have no reliable access to electricity. Almost nothing can hold back a country’s economic development more. Poor access to power supplies is also linked to other social issues: a low level of education, poor healthcare, lack of gender equality, poor public security and high levels of environmental pollution.


Decentralized solutions for electricity supply and associated technological applications beyond can provide help where functioning infrastructure is lacking or only partially exists. So-called physical apps give individuals the ability to conveniently modify decentralized technological devices and enhance functionality to meet their needs.

The principle of physical apps supports the idea of making something oneself. The basic system consists of a “box” containing a circuit board, power storage and sensors. Users can develop their own intelligent hardware extensions, known as “smart devices,” and connect them to the basic system via “open,” non-proprietary interfaces. This is modeled on the principle of smartphone apps, in that the smartphone itself offers the technological environment that makes apps usable.

This means technology can be harnessed in a cheap, modular, individual and temporary way – by anyone. This enables people in developing countries, for example, to gain access to technology.


The PhApps project focuses on countries in which provisions for mobility, energy, communication and health are below average and where these limitations could be addressed with help from the envisioned technological solutions.

The aim of the PhApps project is to identify possible applications for physical apps in developing countries as well as to demonstrate their fundamental technical feasibility. Specific product concepts are to be developed based on its findings. To this end, Fraunhofer IAO is looking for companies who would like to be involved in implementing the physical apps for developing countries. It also wants to find NGOs and development aid workers to help come up with products.