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Photo essay: The bizarre, brilliant and useful inventions of Cuban DIY engineers

BY and   January 7, 2015 at 5:02 PM EDT

Long walled off from world trade and modern technology, Cuba has developed a robust culture of DIY engineers who turn household items into useful inventions. Water pump motors propel bicycles, clothes dryers are repurposed into coconut shredders. Cuban artist Ernesto Orza has spent the last decade photographing and collecting many of these creations. Read more about Cuban inventions in our Science Wednesday piece, How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. This bicycle has a soda bottle for a fuel tank. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. This bicycle has a soda bottle for a fuel tank. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

Lamps made from household items like glass jars and toothpaste tubes. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

Lamps made from household items like glass jars and toothpaste tubes. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

A charger for non-rechargable hearing aid batteries. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

A charger for non-rechargable hearing aid batteries. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

LEFT: Cuban inventor Yolando Perez Baez demonstrates his engine-starting device that can work in the place of a starter motor -- a component that frequently fails.  A large weight is hoisted up and dropped to spin a flywheel to start motors around the farm. Photo by Desmond Boylan/Reuters RIGHT: Farmer Carlos Frachi invented a crop irrigation system using soda bottles. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

LEFT: Cuban inventor Yolando Perez Baez demonstrates his engine-starting device which can work in the place of a starter motor-a component that frequently fails. A large weight is hoisted up and dropped to spin a flywheel to start motors around the farm. Photo by Desmond Boylan/Reuters RIGHT: Farmer Carlos Frachi invented a crop irrigation system using soda bottles. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

A small laptop mounted to the dashboard of a 1955 Ford Mercury. Photo by Edel Rodriguez.

A small laptop mounted in a 1955 Ford Mercury. Photo by Edel Rodriguez.Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

The electric motor from the widely-owned Soviet Aurika clothes dryer is a popular device for Cuban inventors. Clockwise from left, in the photos above, the motors have been repurposed as coconut shredder, a key duplicator, a grinding wheel, and a shoe repair tool. Photos by Ernesto Oroza

The electric engine from the widely-owned Soviet Aurika washing machine is commonly repurposed. Clockwise from left, in the photos above, the motors have been repurposed as coconut shredder, a key duplicator, a grinding wheel, and a shoe repair tool. Photos by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

Cubans wait for the departure of a public bus built from a repurposed semi truck, commonly called "El Camello" (The Camel). Photo by Rafael Perez/Reuters

Cubans wait for the departure of a public bus built from a repurposed semi truck, commonly called “El
Camello” (The Camel). Photo by Rafael Perez/Reuters. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

Metal meal trays repurposed as television antennas are visible on rooftops across Cuba. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

Standardized metal meal trays repurposed as television antennas are visible on rooftops across Cuba. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

Government glassware used to distribute food was often reused to store and trade illegal food and medicine, Oroza says. Photo by  Ernesto Oroza

Government glassware used to distribute food was often reused to store and trade illegal food and medicine, Oroza says. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

Children's toys built from glue bottles and plastic bottle caps. Photos by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

Childrens’ toys built from glue bottles and plastic bottle caps. “Unfortunately, all of this creativity is motivated by profound poverty and desperation. For this reason is it hardly enjoyable for anyone involved,” Oroza says. Photos by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

House fans built from parts from widely-owned Soviet appliances. Photos by  Ernesto Oroza

House fans built from telephone components and an LP vinyl disc as blades.. Photos by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

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