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SociaLite - Solar LED lantern

SociaLite designed by Toby Cumberbatch and Cooper Union students. Photo: Toby Cumberbatch

A sustainable solar lantern for African communities in Ghana – created by Toby Cumberbatch with Cooper Union students.

The development of the SociaLite solar lightning system started in 2006 in a engineering class of Toby Cumberbatch at the Cooper Union with the challenge to create a low cost light that is usable in Africa: A low-cost LED lantern light designed with social, political, and economic structure of African villages in mind, that is multifunctional, able to be used for two days without a recharge, cost less than $10, and be recognized as a must-have object by the people who would purchase it.

Residents of Nambeg, Northern Ghana, collaborated on the project to design SociaLite by Toby Cumberbatch and Cooper Union students. Photo: Toby Cumberbatch

Residents of Nambeg, Northern Ghana, were asked to collaborate with a team of the Cooper Union to test prototypes and to provide feedback. To make the lantern accessible, durable, sustainable, and maintainable once the Cooper Union team left, the circuit board was simplified to make it easy to learn how to assemble the components.

SociaLite was finally designed with LEDs and charging circuitry, and an AVR microprocessor with a battery life of four years. At full power, SociaLite stays illuminated for 40 hours; at low power, it has a 200-hour life.

SociaLite is a solar powered LED lantern designed by Toby Cumberbatch and Cooper Union students. Photo: Toby Cumberbatch

The collaborative design of the lighting system SociaLite has fostered an entrepreneurial spirit among the residents of Nambeg: To date, 400 lanterns have been sold and another 800 have been ordered.  And even those who earn less than 25 cents per day, are able to purchase a lantern and have access to portable light that was once previously unavailable.

According to Cumberbatch the key to developing this project was the premise that there would be a cost associated with the lantern:  “If you give something away for free, it has no value.”

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