10 Swedish innovations
From adjustable wrenches to digital doctors, here are 10 Swedish innovations.
1. Adjustable wrench
A staple in many toolboxes, the adjustable wrench or spanner, also popularly called ‘Monkey wrench‘ or ‘English key’, often comes in very handy during do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. While one of the first iterations of this spanner was patented by British Joseph Stubs in 1840, today’s adjustable wrench, the ‘Swedish Key’, is attributed to Johan Petter Johansson. He was a Swedish inventor who improved upon Stubs' original concept and patented it in 1891.
2. Cashless payments
You can tell that something has become part of the culture when it enters the day-to-day language. The verb swisha (to swish) is the perfect example. It refers to using Swish, a Swedish app for instant payments. A smartphone with a number is all you need to make a transfer in a matter of seconds.
Logging in to the Swish app requires BankID, another mobile app that allows anyone with a Swedish personal identification number (personnummer) and bank account to access all digital public services, use online banking and even sign contracts.
Diesel-fueled freight trucks remain one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Swedish company Einride has developed a freight truck that’s not only electric but also autonomous. The Einride Pod comes without a driver’s seat or steering wheel as it drives itself through a cloud-based remote-monitoring system that allows human operators to intervene when necessary.
The vehicles, which can carry up to ten tonnes at a time, were first tested on public roads in Sweden back in 2018. Einride has partnered with companies such as Coca-Cola, SKF, Oatly, Lidl and Electrolux.
Time Magazine listed Einride as one of the 100 best inventions of 2021.
4. The Karma app
We all know karma matters, right? Well, Karma can also transform food waste from a problem to an opportunity. Some Swedish entrepreneurs have launched an app called Karma. Via the app, supermarkets, restaurants and cafés can offer products that are about to expire at half price, instead of throwing them away. In just two years, Karma claims to have attracted 1.4 million users around Sweden as well as in the UK and France.
Reducing food waste is also on the government’s agenda. ‘More to do more’ is an action plan developed by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the National Food Agency and the Swedish Board of Agriculture. The aim is reduced food waste on a national level by 2030.
5. Life-saving drones
In December 2021, an autonomous drone helped save a life in Sweden. This is the amazing story of how an off-duty doctor got help from state-of-the-art technology to stop a man from dying.
Dr. Mustafa Ali was driving to work when he saw a man who had collapsed outside his house and a woman sitting next to him. Ali rushed to help.
The man was suffering a cardiac arrest after shovelling snow, and Ali started performing CPR while asking the woman to call 112, the Swedish emergency number. After only a few minutes, he saw something come flying. No, it wasn’t an angel, but close. It was a drone carrying a defibrillator.
Much thanks to Mustafa Ali and the quickly delivered defibrillator, the 71-year-old man’s life was saved.
The drone was part of a research project aiming to see how drones can be used in healthcare. The project included the Västra Götaland region (where this particular drone was dispatched), the Swedish Emergency Services and Karolinska Institutet. The company behind the drone, Everdrone, specialise in public safety and emergency response.
Using drones makes it possible to deliver emergency medical help using the shortest route and to access otherwise inaccessible places.
6. Methane blocker
According to the UN Environment Programme, livestock emissions account for over 30 per cent of human-caused methane emissions today.
Enter Volta Greentech, a Swedish startup with the mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cows with seaweed.
Stockholm-based Volta Greentech has developed a seaweed-based feed supplement which, according to studies, can reduce the enteric methane emissions – farts and burps, bluntly speaking – from cows and beef cattle around 80 per cent.
The crucial ingredient in the supplement is Asparagopsis taxiformis, a red macroalgae rich in bioactive compounds – which block one of the enzymes needed by the methane-producing bacteria in the cow’s stomach.
Volta Greentech conducted its commercial pilot feeding in 2021 and is now working towards large-scale production. A first factory – Volta Factory 01 – is being built in Lysekil on the Swedish west coast, and the company is also planning for construction of Volta Factory 02 in 2024.
In 1958, Rune Elmqvist developed a battery-run artificial pacemaker, which was used for the very first pacemaker operation done by surgeon Åke Senning at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. The pacemaker is placed under the heart patient’s skin and the electrical pulses it generates ensure that muscles expand and contract normally, regulating the heart.
8. Three-point seatbelt
Now a standard requirement in every passenger vehicle saving around one life every six minutes, the three-point seatbelt was developed by Swedish inventor and safety engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959 for Volvo. It’s designed with a Y shape to spread out energy across a moving body during an accident.
9. The walking frame
Swedish social scientist Aina Wifalk contracted polio – a virus that can cause temporary or permanent paralysis – at the age of 21. After tearing her shoulders from using walking sticks for two decades, she came up with the walking frame, or walker, an invention that has made life easier for elderly and disabled people since the late 1970s. Because Wifalk wanted the walker to be accessible to as many people as possible, she never patented it. To this day, the walker helps your grandparents stay mobile and active.
The modern-day zip as we know it was improved upon and developed by Swedish–American inventor Gideon Sundbäck from an earlier less effective model in 1913. Sundbäck’s newly redesigned version called the ‘separable fastener’ was patented in 1917 and features interlocking teeth pulled together and apart by a slider.