Inflatable Solar LED Illuminates Disaster Relief
More than 1.4 billion people around the world have no access to electricity. When the sun goes down, darkness comes up. Almost all of these people live in Africa and India. Kerosene generators are one solution, but they pollute the environment and are often too expensive for the millions of people living poverty. Those who rely on it go deeper into poverty just trying to read and work.
One innovation making its way into these regions is the solar-powered light bulb. Many of the newest models are comprised of a small solar panel, rechargeable batteries and an LED bulb, which requires very little energy to work.
Evan Mills, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory hopes that solar light bulbs do for light-poor communities what mobile phones has already done for communities lacking a wired infrastructure. Mill thinks that solar light could leapfrog wealthy countries in acquiring advanced wireless LEDs and become ubiquitous. Beyond improving the environment, Mills said, "it will be a boon to literacy, safety for women and productivity of businesses who today are stuck with flame-based light."
Here is just a sampling of designs bringing solar-powered light to dark corners of the world.
The India-based company Greenlight Planet makes solar-powered lanterns called Sun King that are built to provide 16 hours of light from one day’s charge. Bright LEDs come mounted inside a waterproof orange lamp head incorporated into a supporting stand. When the Sun King lamps were rolled out in a rural Indian village several hours outside Mumbai, one elderly resident told the Wall Street Journal she was able to stop using a rusty kerosene lamp that made her cough.
The Denver-based solar light bulb company Nokero, short for “No Kerosene,” was started by mechanical engineer Steve Katsaros in 2010. Nokero’s solar light bulbs clearly resemble traditional light bulbs. Each bulb contains a rechargeable AA battery, LEDs under a curved housing, a small solar panel, and a hook to suspend it. Through international collaboration with NGOs, the company’s lights have been dispatched to areas worldwide. After a 2011 earthquake in Turkey, the bulbs provided light for millions without power.
AFP via PhysOrg
Several years ago the young Kenyan engineer Evans Wadongo made it his mission to help bring Africans out of poverty. Kerosene lamps had damaged his vision growing up so he set to work designing a solar lamp he called Mwangabora, Swahili for “good light.” CNN named Wadongo one of the top 10 heroes for 2010 and he currently heads up the NGO Sustainable Development For All that works to bring lasting solutions to problems facing African families, including solar light.
D.light via Mercy Corps
The for-profit social enterprise D.light was cofounded by Stanford Design School classmates Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun. Their goal to serve households lacking electricity was inspired by Goldman’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, where a kerosene lamp burned his neighbor’s son.
D.light makes several bright orange solar lights that include a circular, tilting LED mounted on a simple metal stand, a wide bottle-shaped light with a multi-setting handle, and a dual-purpose light and phone charger with a strap attachment and rounded handle.
Belgian designer Alain Gilles developed the Nomad portable solar lamp system for O’Sun that could both be used in place of kerosene and work as a camping or outdoor lamp. The light was presented earlier last year at Milan Design Week, where the simple lantern gained attention for its shock resistance, hook attachment for suspension and mobile phone charger. The waterproof lantern has three settings, allowing it to get between six and 35 hours depending on the mode following a six-hour charge. If the sun fails, Nomad can be recharged in a car or wall outlet.
LuminAID cofounders Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta met in graduate school, where they were studying design and architecture. After experiencing the 2011 earthquake in Japan firsthand on a trip, they developed a portable, inflatable and water-resistant light that only weighs three ounces and packs down so that 50 could be shipped in the same box that only holds eight regular flashlights. A five-hour charge gives LuminAID between about six and eight hours of diffused LED light, and has two brightness settings.
Former Marine and American Diplomatic Corps member Mark Bent started the company SunNight Solar in 2006 to produce a durable flashlight-shaped solar light called BoGo. Bent uses rechargeable batteries that run for between 750 and 1,000 individual nights with between six and eight hours of usage with LEDs built to last an average of 100,000 hours.
BoGo lights have been donated through nonprofits to communities across the world, including Africa and India. Last year when Hurricane Sandy caught Bent on the road and the hotel where he was staying lost power, he distributed lights to guests.
The New York City-based company Mpowerd, led by entrepreneur Jacques-Philippe Piverger, recently came out with its own version of an inflatable solar lantern known as Luci. Piverger initially got help from the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to create the light. Each four-ounce cylindrical lantern produces six to 12 hours of light after six hours charge time. Mpowerd calls its solar-powered light a combination task light, flashlight, and diffused lantern.
The design team behind the LuminAID solar-powered portable LED device found their initial inspiration in tragedy.
“When we think of our most basic human needs, we often think of food, water and shelter,” say the designers on the LuminAID project page. “But when architecture graduate students Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta were asked to design a product to assist post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, they considered the dangerous conditions at night in the tent cities and turned their attention to another critical need — light.”
Thus was born the idea for a tiny portable light source that could be powered up by the sun during the day, then provide a full 10 to 16 hours of nighttime illumination. The LuminAID packs flat at 2.9 ounces and about the size of a smart phone. Inflate by mouth with the built-in valve, and the device expands to the size of an airplane pillow, using the trapped air to diffuse the emitted LED light.
Through the Give Light, Get Light program, the LuminAID team has partnered with non-profits and NGOs across the globe to deliver the device to trouble spots in more than a dozen countries, including Hurricane Isaac in Haiti and Hurricane Sandy on the U.S. East Coast.
Of course, LuminAID is good for adventure travel and camping, too. And through the company’s sponsorship program, when you purchase one or more lights for yourself, you can donate a light to your choice of several different relief organizations — in Haiti, Ghana, India or the Philippines.
Just last month, LuminAID co-founder Andrea Sreshta brought the LuminAID project to the White House Maker Faire, hosted by President Obama. Andrea spoke about how the first LuminAID prototypes were made with handheld heat-sealers, Radio Shack batteries and different types of solar panels: “We hope to continue to have fun experimenting with ideas, making things by hand, and perhaps most importantly, effect positive change through our inventions.”