GravityLight Brings Illumination to Developing Countries


The GravityLight was created by London designers, Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves. GravityLight is a small LED light powered by gravitational energy. The user lifts a weighted sack filled with rocks, gravel, etc. The sack slowly descends, providing light for up to 30 minutes. The device is even configured to charge various electronic devices. The light currently costs only $10 and could drop to as little as $5 with mass production.

As many as 1.3 billion people lacked electricity in 2009. These people rely primarily on kerosene lamps to provide nighttime lighting. These lamps have numerous downsides: negative health impact from particulate matter exposure, child poisoning due to accidental ingestion, etc. In Sri Lanka, 40% of all burns are attributed to kerosene lamps, with 150-200 lives lost, and a medical care cost of $1 million annually.

Furthermore, as much as 10-20% of household income is spent on kerosene for lighting. At a cost of $10, the GravityLight takes only 3 months to pay for itself in kerosene savings. The GravityLight will continue to save money for the user. With these savings and the increase in possible productive hours, the user might be able to lift themselves out of poverty.

A typical LED light offers similar performance to that of the brightest kerosene lamps, with potential to be considerably brighter than the typical lamp. Fuel-based lighting, typically kerosene, represents $38 billion per year fuel costs and 260 MT of carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide. The GravityLight runs on a fuel that is free, gravity. Because it does not use hydrocarbon combustion, it does not generate any carbon-dioxide.

The GravityLight offers a promising solution to the economic, environmental, and health issue of off-grid nighttime lighting. It offers improved economics by saving the user money on fuel costs. It offers a clean and safe alternative to burning kerosene for light. Even better, it accomplishes all the above while providing improved illumination when compared to typical kerosene lamps.




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2 responses to “GravityLight Brings Illumination to Developing Countries

  1. This is an extremely cool idea, though I have a couple of caveats. It is easy to think of muscle power as fuel free, but it most certainly is not. Many of the communities that are without electricity also face tremendous calorie shortages, and I would be curious to know how much muscle power is needed to run the gravity light for an extended period. In no way does calorie consideration make the gravity light infeasible, but it is important to include it in opportunity cost and cost benefit analysis of the product.
    Additionally, anything made for a third world market must be weather proof and highly impact resistant as spare parts and repairs would be difficult to come by. Sufficiently ruggedizing a product can be quite difficult and expensive, and it remains to be seen if the gravity light can withstand the harsh conditions in Africa.
    I would hope that the designers recognize that off the grid light generation has many more potential users than just third world communities. Campers and outdoorsmen could potentially find use for this product as well as fringe groups like survivalists and doom preppers. It may be worth marketing this product to those groups at a substantial markup in order to help subsidize the units destined for Africa.

  2. arielwang13

    I think that GravityLight is a wonderful idea. It is such a simple solution to a pretty big problem. I do wonder how much muscle power is needed to lift the weight on the GravityLight, though. After doing some research, I found that the weight is about 20-25 lbs [1], which can be quite heavy for children or people who are weak from malnutrition. Perhaps in the future, some improvements can be made to reduce the weight needed to power the device.
    The product design firm Therefore that Riddiford co-founded posted the lamp invention on a crowdfunding site called Indiegogo in hopes of raising $55,000. By the end of the month, they had received $400,000. Many people donated to the cause, including soda companies and even the Department of Defense [2].
    With their new funding, the creators of GravityLight, Riddiford and Reeves were able to improve their design. First, they made their product more robust. If the lamp is overloaded or handled too roughly, it will give feedback indicating so. They also improved the efficiency of the light, which can now provide a wider range of power as well as duration adjustments. The inventors also added a clear plastic backing onto the design so that security at checkpoints and border crossings can clearly see the inner workings of the device, making them less likely to be confiscated or destroyed [3]. I thought that this was a very interesting and practical improvement to the design. It is very logical, but it is something that could have easily been overlooked.
    The funding has also finally allowed the creators to produce their first batch of the improved GravityLight for field tests this summer in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middel East. This mass production has led to the drop in retail price to $5 [2]. I am glad that the price has dropped and made this product more available for people to purchase and replace their kerosene lighting. I did not realize that kerosene was so detrimental to people’s health! According to the World Bank estimates, about 780 million women and children breathe in smoke equivalent to smoking two cigarette packs a day. It turns out that about 60% of adult female lung-cancer victims in these developing countries are non-smokers. Aside from burns, the fumes from kerosene cause eye infections and cataracts. Kerosene lighting is also pretty expensive and consumes about 10-20% of a household’s income [3]. It is wonderful that people in developing nations can finally have a cheaper alternative lighting system. I look forward to following up on such a promising invention!


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