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Frugal Innovation: The Likelihood of Being Disruptive Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 14th, 2021

Introduction: Is Frugal the New Disruptive?

The effect of financial crises and global warming has encouraged industries to come up with more sustainable and cost-effective products. Currently, the most viable approach to reaching such goals is frugal innovation (FI) (Rao 2013).

FI is the design process in which products and services are created to be affordable, appropriate, and accessible (Basu, Banerjee & Sweeny 2013). Under this approach, it has become possible to meet the needs of region-dependent customers through the intelligent use of resources (Colledani et al. 2016). However, some critics argue that FI can be disruptive (Rao 2013). In particular, there is an opinion that FI “will merely exacerbate capitalist exploitation and inequality” (Knorringa et al. 2016, p. 143). The paper offers an overview of two FI products and the analysis of their potential for being disruptive.

Sandia National Laboratories: The Robotic Hand

Product Analysis

The Sandia Hand is a device created by Sandia National Laboratories the main function of which is bomb disposal (Zax 2012). The main features of the robotic hand are its low cost, dexterity, and modularity. Due to the use of 3-D high-resolution rapid prototyping technology, it became possible to reduce the product’s cost (Sandia Hand n.d.). The hand is dexterous because of four three-degree-of-freedom fingers. The device is modular since each finger socket can be controlled and replaced separately (Beciri 2012). The Sandia Hand has such benefits as the reduction of downtime, customization, mechanical breakaway options, and pluggable tools (Sandia Hand n.d.). Control over the hand is managed remotely with a glove. The hand has a gel-like layer that imitates human tissue (Streams 2012).

Designers emphasize that the ability of the hand to dispose of bombs is not the only beneficial feature of the device. With the help of the Sandia Hand, it will also become possible to find bomb makers (Lifelike, cost-effective robotic 2012). Frequently, specialists disarm bombs by blowing them up. With the robotic hand, the valuable evidence will not be destroyed, and investigators will have more chances to find and catch the bomb maker. In the long run, it is expected that more arrests of bomb makers will lead to the reduction of bombings (Lifelike, cost-effective robotic 2012).

Disruptiveness Potential

The potential growth and recognition of is Sandia National Laboratories rather high due to the positive feedback and the price of the product. With the help of a consulting company LUNAR, Sandia was able to bring down the cost of the robotic hand (LUNAR helps develop 2012). Also, the designers of the device have taken into consideration the need for the reduced exploitation of resources, which is a FI approach (Prabhu 2017).

However, the cost-effectiveness of the product can also lead to its becoming disruptive. Sandia senior manager, Philip Heermann, notes that the Sandia Hand has the same level of disruptiveness as the microchip does (Szondy 2012). The estimated retail price is $800 per degree of freedom, which makes a total price equal $10,000 (LUNAR helps develop 2012). As the high-volume production can decrease the cost further, the Sandia Hand is likely to become a disruptive technology (Szondy 2012). Thus, this device is an example of FI becoming disruptive, which can have a negative impact on other companies producing similar products with more expensive resources.

Columbia University Earth Institute: The Bamboo Bike

Product Analysis

The Bamboo Bike Project (BBP) was launched in 2007 by the Earth Institute of Columbia University (Bamboo bikes are gaining attention n.d.). The major goal of the project was to create bicycles that would be suitable for sub-Saharan African conditions. Another significant element was that the bikes should be made of native and non-expensive materials. The project’s goals are to introduce an enhanced bicycle design, to teach semi-literate African citizens to build bicycles and improve their transportation options, and to expand employment opportunities in this region (Bamboo bike project n.d.).

Such bicycles can satisfy highly significant needs of African citizens which exist due to the lack of affordable transportation (Production starts 2011). With the help of the product, people will be able to improve their options for marketing, health care, and education.

Bamboo bikes are not only cheaper but also stronger and lighter than steel-frames ones (Bamboo bikes project n.d.). Thus, people can both carry more goods on them and use them on unsatisfactory roads. These products have a great potential for growth and recognition since they can become a sustainable business which offers employment for Ghanaian people (Assaël n.d.). Numerous advantages of bamboo bikes allow considering them as highly beneficial FI products.

Disruptiveness Potential

The production of bamboo bikes allows creating necessary products in conditions of resource scarcity, which is the key feature of FI (Simula, Hossain, M & Halme 2015). It might seem that due to the product’s low prices, the technology is disruptive. Indeed, the citizens Ghana can afford such a kind of transport, having to pay only $60 for it (Wollan 2010). However, the threat of people from developed countries buying cheap bicycles and disrupting the companies producing their bikes from less sustainable and more expensive materials cannot be considered as substantial. The bikes for people living in poor African regions are sold at a set moderate price.

However, bamboo bicycles are not as cheap in other parts of the world. For instance, a famous designer from California, Craig Calfee, sells exquisite hand-made for up to $3,500 (Greenwald 2011). Therefore, while the BBP does produce and sell bikes at a low price, it is not possible to say that the business approach is entirely disruptive.


Frugal innovation is a cost-effective and sustainable approach to producing goods. With the help of using cheaper resources, it is possible to create affordable products and services. However, some of FI initiatives tend to be disruptive due to setting very low prices. Economists are worried that such innovations can undermine the image of established companies. Out of the two products that have been analyzed, the Sandia Hand is considered to be more disruptive than the bamboo bicycle.

Reference List

Assaël, K n.d., . Web.

Bamboo bike project n.d. Web.

n.d. Web.

n.d. Web.

Basu, RR, Banerjee, PM & Sweeny, EG 2013, ‘Frugal innovation: core competencies to address global sustainability’, Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 63-82.

Beciri, D 2012, ‘’, RobAid. Web.

Colledani, M, Silipo, L, Yemane, A, Lanza, G, Bürgin, J, Hochdörffer, J, Georgoulias, K, Mourtzis, D, Bitte, F, Bernard, A & Belkadi, F 2016, ‘Technology-based product-services for supporting frugal innovation’, Procedia CIRP, vol. 47, pp. 126-131.

Greenwald, J 2011, ‘’, Smithsonian.com. Web.

Knorringa, P, Peša, I, Leliveld, A & van Beers, C 2016, ‘Frugal innovation and development: aides or adversaries?’, European Journal of Development Research, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 143-153.

Lifelike, cost-effective robotic Sandia Hand can disable IEDs 2012. Web.

2012. Web.

Prabhu, J 2017, ‘Frugal innovation: doing more with less for more’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol. 375, no. 2095, pp. 20160372.

2011. Web.

Rao, BC 2013, ‘How disruptive is frugal?’, Technology in Society, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 65-73.

n.d. Web.

Simula, H, Hossain, M & Halme, M 2015, ‘Frugal and reverse innovations – quo vadis?’, Current Science, vol. 109, no. 9, pp. 1567-1572.

Streams, K 2012, ‘’, The Verge. Web.

Szondy, D 2012, ‘’, New Atlas. Web.

Wollan, M 2010, ‘’, The New York Times. Web.

Zax, D 2012, ‘’, MIT Technology Review. Web.

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