Many people consider their weight more of a hassle than a help. They shield the number that pops up on a scale the way they might protect their PIN codes at an ATM. But what if your weight actually served a greater purpose than just, well, weighing you down? What if it were the world’s most eco-friendly energy source?
To understand the story behind using gravity as an energy source, we must first begin with the problem: 20% of the world’s population (or roughly 1.3 billion people) do not have access to electricity. That ratio is projected to remain the same as the world’s population continues to skyrocket.
With no access to electricity, most of these people are forced to use kerosene lamps to light their homes. Often times, these kerosene lamps are homemade contraptions involving the use of an empty bottle and wick. These makeshift lamps are pricey, bad for the earth (due to CO2 emissions), and dangerous.
Enter GravityLight, a lamp that doesn’t require the use of batteries or sunlight. It costs absolutely nothing to run the GravityLight, and takes only seconds to lift the weight that powers the lamp for an extended period of time.
The GravityLight contains the unit, a drive belt, two hooks, two bags (used for weight) and two large zip ties. The unit is installed to provide a 6-foot drop of a 12kg weight. The weight is lifted and, on release, starts falling slowly (about 1mm per second).
The movement powers a drive sprocket, which rotates slowly using high torque. A polymer gear train turns this into a high-speed, low-torque output that drives a DC generator.
The generator produces under a tenth of a watt (deciwatt) to power an onboard LED and ancillary devices. The power may seem minimal, but with the increasing efficiency of LEDs, this energy is enough to light over 5 times brighter than a typical open-wick kerosene lamp.
Once the weighted bag reaches the floor, it just needs to be lifted again to repeat the lighting process.
GravityLight is unique from solar-powered devices because it doesn’t need the sun in order to operate, nor does it need to be charged before use.
Back in 2012, designers Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves were approached by a UK charity (SolarAid), and asked to come up with a solution to eradicate kerosene lamps. The team took to Indiegogo to raise the funds necessary to produce 1,000 units to test the GravityLight concept.
After their successful crowdfunding campaign, the team refined their prototype, and sent it out to organizations and individuals in 26 countries to get firsthand feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
Some of the issues the inventors discovered after their first prototype was tested during global field trials included:
Taking all of that, the group went back to the drawing board to improve on the original model, and is currently refining its GL02 model.
GravityLight is one product, but harnesses the use of a truly unique concept – energy generated from weight. The innovators behind the product seem to understand that there’s far greater potential than just powering lights, which is why they’ve included a DC jack on the system so that it can power other devices, such as a radio.
And while this gravity-powered light is primarily targeted for people with no access to electricity, it certainly can serve as a reliable backup lighting source for people in more developed countries, in the case of blackouts or power failures.
Now that this one group of inventors has tapped into an entirely new potential energy source, what can we expect from other innovative minds out there? How else can gravity be used to power our devices and lessen our negative impact on the planet?
It’s a question with a lot of weight to it, but as we’re all beginning to discover, that may not be a bad thing after all.