Sunday, March 17, 2013

Let there be [more] light...

Innovation is not just a fancy term for entrepreneurs to make more money with new ideas and products. Innovation has real value in helping improve the lives of people and our society as a whole. This is an area that I focused on in my book, Living in the Innovation Age (TekNirvana, 2011). One fascinating example of this was how students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the solar bottle bulb – a simple, yet effective innovation that costs less than $3 and only requires a one-liter soda bottle filled with a mixture of purified water and bleach to provide approximately 55 watts of daylight. This innovation solves a challenge faced in numerous poorer communities with cramped settlements of small metal roofed houses that do not get any sunlight in their homes.

Businessweek recently covered the story of an innovator who has created one more way that the poor can get clean and cheap light. Better yet, this one doesn't require daylight, which means it can provide light even after sunset. Kerosene lamps used in many developing countries in addition to posing fire hazards and injurious to health are also 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. British industrial designer, Martin Riddiford, has figured out a way to use gravity instead of kerosene. He has created GravityLight - a pineapple-size lamp powered by a 25-pound weight that falls about six feet in a half-hour and shines slightly brighter than most kerosene lamps. The catch - once the weight reaches bottom, it must be manually lifted to repeat the process since GravityLight ingeniously uses human power stored as potential energy. GravityLight is slated to 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 is expected to retail for about $5. Not bad at all.

The Bottom Line
Innovation can help proactively improve the quality of life for those less fortunate. Even simple innovations such as enabling members of poorer communities to get daylight in their homes or providing a safer, cleaner, and cheaper alternative to kerosene lamps can substantially improve the lives of those who live in under developed parts of the world.

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