By Design March 2013

Bright Idea

Sam Armstrong

Problem: Many of the 1.4 billion people who lack electricity use kerosene lamps for lighting, despite their myriad dangers. They cause millions of severe burns each year. Kerosene fumes contribute to lung cancer. The fuel is ruinously expensive, and it’s a major carbon emitter. But oft-proposed alternatives, like solar-powered lamps, require expensive batteries.

Solution: “We reckoned, ‘Why not use gravity?’ ” says Martin Riddiford, a co-founder and director of Therefore, a London design consultancy. One of Therefore’s early prototypes involved a steel drum and a bicycle wheel; the final product, GravityLight, uses dirt and a bit of muscle power. Mount the lamp from a wall or ceiling, fill the attached fabric bag with 20 pounds of dirt, and hoist the bag up. As the bag descends, gears turn inside the lamp, generating enough light to read by for up to 30 minutes—no batteries needed. One thousand GravityLights arrive in Asia, Africa, and South America for a trial run this spring, and a model selling for less than $10 is slated to hit the market next year.

Presented by

Malcolm Burnley does story research for The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In