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GravityLight tackles weighty issue of lighting in the developing world


December 10, 2012

The GravityLight is designed to replace kerosene lamps in the developing world

The GravityLight is designed to replace kerosene lamps in the developing world

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With most of us in the developed world more concerned about the flow of electricity to power our computers, TVs and all manner of other wonders of the modern age, it’s easy to forget the massive impact resulting from one of the first widespread public uses of electricity – the humble incandescent light bulb. With a large proportion of the world’s population still lacking reliable access to electricity, the GravityLight hopes to bring the benefits of environmentally friendly artificial light to the developing world.

As the developed world makes the move to electrical lighting options more environmentally friendly than the incandescent bulb, the team behind the GravityLight says that around 1.5 billion people in the developing world still rely on kerosene wick lamps for lighting. A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois claims these kerosene lamps are even more hazardous to the environment and human health than previously thought – and they were already known to be pretty terrible.

After being challenged to develop a solar-powered LED lantern for villages in Africa, the creators of the GravityLight instead turned to a different power source that is freely available to anyone on the planet – gravity. They’ve turned to crowdfunding to get their idea off the ground.

The GravityLight is an LED lamp that works by harnessing the gravitational force exerted on a weight hanging from the lamp. One lift of a 20-pound (9 kg) weight, (which is formed by filling the fabric bag the light is delivered in with rocks or sand), generates enough power to provide 30 minutes of light with no need for rechargeable batteries or fuel, which means no running costs.

The unit has also been designed so that it can be used to power other devices, such as a radio, or recharge batteries, which can be connected to terminals on the front of the unit. The brightness of the GravityLight can also be adjusted based on the task at hand or to increase light running time.

The team hopes to get the cost to villagers of the GravityLight down to less than US$5, which would see them saving money after switching from kerosene lamps after a period of around three months.

They project is rapidly approaching its $55,000 funding goal, which will be used to tool, manufacture and distribute at least 1,000 gravity powered lights in Africa and India with the aim of improving the design and efficiency of the device based on actual use.

The team’s GravityLight video pitch can be viewed below.

Source: indiegogo via engadget

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

What a great idea - good luck!

Please have a think about those who get a living from the small scale distribution of kerosene. They may be out of work and struggling to feed their families.

999 HOT

OMG It's brilliant ! Cheap, green, simple idea! I would love to have it myself for hiking or whatever! wow.

Adam Specht

Maybe they could be recruited as distributors of the GravityLight, in parallel with their kerosene business? Brilliant ('scuse the pun) idea, based on the ancient weight-driven clock drive system. It needs to be made tough though, as repairs or replacement would probably be prohibitively expensive.


This is a great idea. It should be on Dragon's Den to help people in third world countries. It should be set up that everyone who buys one in the western world adds an extra $5 so that a free one can be given out in Africa. That way in the west it is a profitable sustainable business and in other parts of the world they have safe light for the first time.

David Wagner

@999 Hot

Great Idea!

You are right about the distributors of Kerosene - but maybe we could get them to distribute & service these and other eco-friendly lights.

What would really make a difference is if we could carry out the production in the developing world as well.

Any volunteers to see it it could be done?

Canis Major

This is a very cool idea, but I'm bothered by the assumption that it is a good idea to replace a mostly automated lighting system with a labor intensive one.

I sure would be more likely to buy one to replace another light source if I could get at least 2+ hours of light from a single "charging" but 30 minutes is almost a joke compared to a lamp.

Rich Brumpton

Rather than aim it at the 3rd world, they should just sell it in the US for disaster preparedness. After they have sold 10 thousand at $10 the cost per unit should be enough to sell in the 3rd world for $5.

I would also like to see an accessory that lets a rocking chair drive the generator.

Michael Crumpton

Anyone who can distribute kerosene can distribute other things and increases in productivity yielded by light at night will provide families with extra spending power to provide markets for things they can distribute.

Snake Oil Baron

This reminds me of those hand-crank LED flashlights that are used for emergencies. Probably more robust, though. Excellent idea.

Bruce H. Anderson

Great work gentleman! The world has become one step closer to being a better place… Keep it up!


Out of curiosity, if you take an average American home, family of four and average out heating and AC over the year, how many bags would need to be lifted to meet a home's energy needs for one day?

Snake Oil Baron

Yes this is what I want. Now if they are just good enough at business to be profitable and finance their next good idea.


It could be called CUCKOO LIGHT. I believe that the 9 kg bag could be replaced by a clock string , isn't it?


Use glow worms they are almost 100% efficient.

Paul Stalker

Average home 1000 kwh per month=2,660,000,000 foot-pounds

--20 pound bags at 6 feet high, dropping for 30 minutes: 15,210 bags --Or one 20 pound bag lifted and dropped 8.43 times per second --Or, 169 pounds per second, or 10,115 pounds each minute

This is for average use--some storage would be needed for peak use. Or more bags, and minions to lift them.

It takes a lot of juice to run a home. A kilowatt saved is way better than a kilowatt earned.


They got me for $65.00. Great Idea!


Rich Brumpton. Yes, you poor dear, you would have to lift the bag again every 30 mimutes. I suppose if you are wealthy enough you could continue to buy kerosene.

Tony Morris


Average home 1000 kwh per month?

Is this an estimate or official statistics? I suppose You live in the U.S.? Nothing personal, but I'm quite sure the average el. energy use per household in Europe amounts to about 300 kwh/month.

Could You be so forthcoming and list the average el. devices operating in a typical (U.S.?) home?

Sure it's a cultural thing, but I can't imagine how to use (waste) that amount of energy day in day out.

I'm not judging anyone - just being curious.

Thanks for Your reply!


@ Niko Re: Average home kwh

The question was asked for an average U.S. home. If the average is 300 in your locale, just multiply the numbers by .3, which would still be a lot of lifting!

Source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3


Oh, I get the lifting part. What I have trouble comprehending is (the somewhat off topic) average energy consumption of an U.S. home.

How many and what kind of el. appliances have to run 24/7 to use up 1000 kWh/month?


I love how the packaging it comes in is also used in the product and therefore doesn't waste any un-necessary materials.

Also we all understand that to power a regular home 300-1000 kWh/ month would be crazy with this system. But think of your typical African home in these villages that may only have one lamp light source at night in the first place. Sure it is easier to say all this when living in the U.S., but if that's all they are using then I think it is a fantastic idea. From the video it didn't look like the homes were that large. I think this is a great solution. Although it could be used for disaster relief and to power homes its intended direction was for these small villages and not for our larger personal living spaces here in the U.S.

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