Project spotlight: GravityLight

GravityLight is an innovative off-grid light designed to eliminate dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps, used by over 1.3 billion people who don’t have access to electricity. It has created a new category of lighting, doesn’t have any batteries, nor does it need sunlight - all you need is a weight. This means it’s a very promising solution for emergency relief and disaster preparedness too, as it can be stored for long periods of time and can be used anytime, whatever the weather. I talked to one of the co-founders, Jim Reeves, to reveal a bit the background of their story.


How did you come up with this concept?

In 2012, product engineer Martin Riddiford and I took up nonprofit SolarAid’s challenge to create a low-cost LED lantern that could replace dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps. The idea to use human power and store it as potential energy, rather than in a battery was born.

Can you tell us about the background of the inventors?

Martin Riddiford is a British industrial designer and a co-founder of London-based product design firm Therefore. Martin has over 30 years of award winning product development experience and who has developed over 108 successful products, working with a range of high profile clients including Pelican, MacLaren, TomTom and Toshiba. Prior to founding Therefore Ltd, Martin was a director of Frazer Designers, an extremely successful product development company responsible for bringing to market a large number of well-known consumer products.

I have been working in product design consultancy for 10 years with multi-disciplinary background, and a BSc (Hons) in Industrial Design Engineering from Brunel University. I have worked as a design engineer and Associate Director at Therefore for many years where I was often involved at several stages during a project, from front-end scoping and concept generation through to production liaison. I undertook in-depth engineering development on longstanding R&D projects, frequently culminating in the preparation of production data and liaison with manufacturers on project requirements and a range of production processes. Some of my recent projects include designing an interactive digital interface system for the London restaurant chain Inamo; as well as leading product design engineering for an Ypsomed insulin injection pen and an innovative skate system for Decathlon.

After co-developing GravityLight with Martin over the last four years, I have become Technical Director at GravityLight where I'm currently focused on design of interaction system, concept generation, technical development and specification, prototyping, testing, industrial design, design for manufacture and production liaison.

How did the development take place?

The first prototype, a large-scale contraption involving a bicycle wheel and a windup LED flashlight, was refined over four years into its current cheap yet durable plastic version. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, the GravityLight has been trialed in 26 countries and received positive user feedback, with 90% agreeing they would use the product instead of traditional kerosene lamps. Since the trial we have been on a path to production to take it to scale with a significantly lower cost. It is also more robust, more effective, more efficient, and the design has been configured to be easily usable for women and children. A second current crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo will help to realize assembly in Kenya, creating local jobs, skills and livelihoods for those who make and sell GravityLight.

What is your vision for GravityLight?

GravityLight will provide a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene lamps.

1.3 billion people worldwide are living without access to grid electricity. Our vision is to replace and provide a safe light that can be used at any time, with no risk of burns, house fires or kerosene fume-related illnesses. The device has no running costs, so it would pay for itself within a few months or weeks, freeing people from fuel poverty.

We are targeting three key sectors across the developing and developed worlds: kerosene replacement, humanitarian relief, and disaster preparedness.

What are your favorite CAD and design tools and what is your take on 3D printing?

We create our production and development CAD in SolidWorks and Adobe suite for all things 2D. 3D printing is a fantastically economic way of mocking up forms, but the tolerances and surface finish still limit its applications, and can often compromise attempts to use it to verify functional performance.

Why has such a solution has not been invented before? It seems like a very clever solution.

The ongoing development of LEDs’ efficiency has recently enabled this technology. LEDs require much less power and can generate a brighter light than was previously available.

What is your recommendation for other engineers and designers who are working on their concepts and what has been the biggest challenge for you?

We wanted to make a device that could provide power for light, as and when it was required, with no limit to the run time in any given night, at a price that will be affordable. It's the affordable part that has been the challenge.

An obstacle for bringing many concepts to life is of course funding. We were locked out of traditional financing and so turned to crowdfunding to raise the costs of conducting a field trial.

Market risk is the second risk entrepreneurs face: the possibility of building something that no one, or not enough people, will want, making the time spent on the project a waste. We conducted a field trial and the feedback we received validated the product.

Our third challenge is getting the product to market. We have turned to crowdfunding for a second time to help see us launch of the product and set up local assembly in Kenya. We have reached 88% of our goal to date, and with the full funding raised, we will launch in 2016.

Thank you Jim and good luck taking GravityLight to billions of people around the world!