We learned that there is much more to light than a battery and a LED. Completely unexpected and unanticipated were the fistfights that arose when users were reluctant to release their prototype lanterns to the next family—police intervention was required to force the transition. Our design approach had failed to appreciate the enormous social impact of light and the consequential change in social dynamics, our mentors had missed this as well.
Sharing expensive items, such as imported photovoltaic panels and locally available car batteries, reduces the cost to an individual. For the housing, clay proved too heavy and molded plastic too fragile—once broken it is irreparable. Containers that no one can afford when full provide a valuable resource when empty and are readily available in the larger markets. Undergraduate students in Ghana and Rwanda placed the battery and the circuit into a robust plastic hair relaxer container. With two bicycle spokes they connected this to a translucent juice bottle to diffuse the light and used a third spoke for the handle.
Exploring ideas through which these communities can become more self-reliant led to the concept of a Lighting System in a Suitcase. A kit from which to build, install and operate a standalone lighting service that combines imported components—electronic circuits, tools for assembly, a solar panel and a charge controller—with a comprehensive set of instructions, in the form of pictograms and videos in local languages. Everything imported for an eighty-lantern kit fits into a cylinder of diameter and length approximately one third of a meter.
To this are added the locally sourced lantern housing materials, a car battery and the 6V lantern batteries. The complete system is now ready for delivery to the community—on someone’s head, a bicycle or the back of a donkey—a functional supply chain that requires no infrastructure.