Tough economic times cast no pall over the recent SolidWorks World 2009 event in Orlando, Florida. Over 4,300 people attended, with almost everyone upbeat and buzzing with ideas. This aligned well with a predominate show theme — innovation, innovation, innovation. CEO Jeff Ray says the Great Depression spawned nylon, car radios, and an all-time favorite — SPAM. So innovation can help solve today’s problems too.

Ray says to consider today’s windmills, developed out of a need for sustainable energy. Currently, the devices cost a lot and most families don't want them in their back yard. He then held up the prototype model of a 3-to-4-ft tall windmill intended to fit on a house rooftop and generate about 3kW power.

Another issue: Many people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. To solve this problem, a company has invented a device that bombards drinking water with UV light, killing any bacteria without the use of chemicals or chlorine. Fifty of the devices are currently being deployed near N.Y.C., enough to fill the Empire State Bldg. eight times a day with water.

Ray also highlighted Design That Matters in Cambridge, Mass., a group of engineers who volunteer their time to solve third-world problems. In remote parts of the globe, infants die like flies despite many charitable organizations having contributed modern incubators. Local populations usually don’t know how to operate the high-tech devices, so when they fail, people just toss the equipment on the roadside. But even remote locations often have cars along with local mechanics. So the engineers designed portable incubators solely out of junked car parts. The headlights went into a heating unit and the battery provided power. Better yet, local mechanics can easily fix the incubators.