Innovator: Martin Riddiford’s Gravity-Powered Lamp to replace hazardous kerosene lamps still used in many developing countries

Innovator: Martin Riddiford’s Gravity-Powered Lamp

By Caroline Winter on March 14, 2013

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Hazardous kerosene lamps, still used in many developing countries, are a major expense for many of the world’s estimated 1.5 billion families without electricity. Poor households typically spend at least 10 percent of their income on kerosene, as much as $36 billion a year worldwide, according to the World Bank. So far, efforts to use solar energy to power lights in developing nations have run up against cost and technical challenges. Attempts to use hydroelectric microgrids or repurpose old car batteries have also been problematic, says Joe Hale, president of the nonprofit Global BrightLight Foundation. Gravity could help. British industrial designer Martin Riddiford has created a pineapple-size lamp powered by a 25-pound weight that falls about six feet in a half-hour. That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to drive a silent motor at thousands of rotations per second. The GravityLight, which shines slightly brighter than most kerosene lamps, requires a certain amount of elbow grease: Once the weight reaches bottom, it must be manually lifted to repeat the process.

Riddiford, 57, a co-founder of London-based product design firm Therefore, got the idea four years ago after leaving a meeting with a charity interested in solar tech. “I just sort of had this vision of, well, why can’t you use human power and store it as potential energy rather than in a battery,” he says. The designer, whose Brinlock Abacus calculator was the first with number-shaped buttons, and whose firm has developed products for Toshiba, Samsonite, and Nike (NKE), says he regrets not having done charitable work overseas in his youth and hopes to make up for it with his light. The first prototype, a large-scale contraption involving a bicycle wheel and a windup LED flashlight, was refined over four years into its current cheap yet durable plastic version. “It’s technically quite tricky to get it so it doesn’t jam, but we solved that problem through lots of experimentation,” Riddiford says. GravityLight will have its first field tests this summer in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Once Riddiford’s team works out the final kinks, the basic model will retail for about $5. Therefore is also weighing development of a brighter version with more settings for camping and emergencies, and may eventually use its gravity-based technology to develop a cell phone charger. In December, Therefore pitched the lamp on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to help cover production costs, and in a month received $400,000, far more than the $55,000 it sought. Bill Gates called GravityLight “a pretty cool innovation,” and Therefore says donors and potential partners range from soda companies to the U.S. Department of Defense. “It’s such a clean source of light, and it’s easy to operate,” says Global BrightLight Foundation’s Hale. “The market is unlimited for them.” Still, before GravityLight goes to market, Riddiford says, “It will have to stand the test of four continents trying to kill it, trying to stamp on it, destroy it, and use it and abuse it.”

Problem: Kerosene light is a big cost for 1.5 billion families worldwide

A solution: A $5 lamp powered by a 25-pound falling weight

Early response: Plaudits from Bill Gates, interest from the Pentagon

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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