As I wandered through the overcrowded and hypersaturated wastelands of CES (News - Alert) 2013 this week, I came across a man with a lamp. He wasn't Diogenes of Sinope, but Micro Power Design (MPOWERD) co-founder and CEO Jacques-Philippe Piverger. Luci, his low-cost solar-powered lantern has a business model designed to help the unfortunate in "energy poverty" around the world.
Lighting is something we take for granted in the developed world, until the power goes out due to a weather event or when we're stuck on the side of the road trying to change a tire. In the developing world, billions light their homes with fires and costly kerosene.
Luci is, yes, unique. It is an inflatable, water-resistant LED solar lantern. Stick it out in the sun for six hours and it will charge up to deliver anywhere from six to 12 hours of 1200 lumens light. The electronics make up the "bottom" of a small inflatable plastic cylinder roughly the diameter of a CD, with the top holding an inflation plug. A couple of breaths and the cylinder is inflated to a height of five inches. The toggle switch at the bottom turns on soft light, bright light, or an emergency flashing mode. Squeeze the one-way inflation plug and compress to store.
Retail list price for Luci is expected to be $19.95 or you can buy direct from the company's website today at $15.95, so it's cheap enough to buy as a back-up to a flashlight. At four ounces, it’s light and compact enough to use for camping. Expect to see Luci lanterns show up at fancy events as semi-throwaway devices; the transparent plastic has got a beach-ball feel and thickness, durable enough to be reused a bunch of times under average use, but not something you expect to hand down to your grandchildren.
Currently, MPOWERD is working to raise at least $200,000 over the next 60 days via the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform, with donation levels lighting up an individual household, a small business, a school or even a community of 1,000 people (the last will cost you $10,000).
When Luci becomes available at a retail outlet, MPOWERD will send another one to someone else in the developing world. I have to also admire the company for not being shy in providing details on shipping options for a bulk pack of 200 units and a point-of-sale box. If I had known in a bit earlier, I'd probably be selling them at IT EXPO in Miami.
If there's an ironic component in here it's that Luci has competition. Another Indiegogo project called GravityLight is developing a kinetically powered LED light and has raised enough target money to embark on a second-generation device. Makers of kerosene lamps might want to rethink their five year sales forecasts.
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Edited by Rich Steeves