Business, Economics and Jobs

Wind-up lights in Africa


The Freeplay Lifeline radio (image: Alex Castellá/Flickr)

The Freeplay foundation already had the technology at hand when it started thinking about how to get cheap, reliable electricity into rural parts of Africa. The group's wind-up radio, called The Lifeline, has been a big hit. It is a regular AM/FM radio, but it runs off of either a hand crank, or solar power.

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Since 1998, Freeplay has distributed around 150,000 of the radios across Africa.

"What we are doing now is we are taking Freeplay technology to another African application. So, the next application will be lighting," says Kristine Pearson, director of the Freeplay Foundation. "If you can extend people's useful hours, by giving even two or three hours of additional light each day, it can really start to transform people's lives. For children, they can study or read. If women do beading work or different activities to earn income like sewing, it enables you. If you have a stand for vegetables for selling, it'll be able to extend your nighttime sales."

Freeplay's plan is straightforward. The Foundation is designing a mini powerstation that could charge a variety of lights--everything from flashlights to household lightbulbs. Charging could be done by hand, by foot, by sun, maybe even by wind power. For the actual lights, Freeplay wants to use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs as they are quick to light and have a significantly longer lifespan than standard incandescent lightbulbs.

Pearson says that the foundation is asking the residents in the areas they hope to serve to aid in the design. "Our approach, like it was with the Lifeline radio, is to spend a lot of time doing needs assesments and creating product prototypes that are then field trials, so the end-users are telling us what it must look like, what services they must perform. We are tailor-making the products to the needs of the end-user."

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