Dual Use – Off Grid – Illumination Device

The Challenge

Two billion people living in the developing world rely on kerosene lanterns, candles, and single-use battery flashlights for light at night. Kerosene is increasingly expensive, especially given the recent rise in the price of petrochemicals, so many families cannot afford it. Flashlights are even more expensive, and candles do not provide adequate lighting to read. As a result, many children will never learn to read and will be trapped in a life of poverty.

The Challenge, Dual Use – Off Grid – Illumination Device, posted by SunNight Solar with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, challenged Solvers to design an affordable dual purpose, interior, self-contained, off-grid lighting device. As a primary technical requirement, the new design must support two illumination modes — a focused beam for illuminating a target area, and a disperse mode for illuminating a full room.

bogo light

The Solver

Russell McMahon, a New Zealand based engineer with a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Auckland University, developed an ingenious winning solution that not only met, but far exceeded the technical requirements. Russell has held a variety of technical engineering roles with NZ Telecom, and since 1993 he has run his own consultancy and development business with a focus on electronic development and related areas.

Russell’s interests include photography, travel, the great outdoors and engineering in general. With an insatiable curiosity about everything, his “hobby” is information. Russell and his wife Val have two adult children.

Russell McMahon

The Solution

Russell applied his knowledge of optics to suggest an optimal arrangement of LEDs that allows for both diffuse room lighting as well as focused lighting. An electrical engineer by profession, Russell was also able to redesign the power management system to greatly enhance performance and battery life. Russell went above and beyond the requirements of the Challenge, addressing waterproofing, battery corrosion, solar panel efficiency, variable output, and making the case for the inclusion of a microcontroller in the new BoGo model.

Despite the Challenge being Theoretical, Russell tested his design by producing a working prototype, demonstrating the actual room-lighting performance far exceeded that of a traditional kerosene lantern.

His solution went in to production within a year of submission — providing light for hundreds of thousands of individuals since.

bogo solution

The Realization

Since Russell’s solution was put in to production, hundreds of thousands have been produced, each of which provides illumination for up to 100,000 hours of use. The new electronics designed by Russell include a ‘power voltage booster module’ which decreases charging times on cloudy days and greatly extends the battery life. For the first time in any solar flashlight, Russell’s design provides the user the ability to switch from directed task lighting to a room illumination light — with only the press of a button.

Russell’s design is changing lives all around the world.

Nurses from a hospital clinic in southern Uganda write:
Regarding the flashlights, as our hospital is run on solar and we live adjacent to a rain forest it is a constant battle to provide light at night. One area of the hospital that operates particularly at night is obstetrics. Our nurses never leave home without their solar flashlights. Many newborns’ first view of the world is the illumination from the solar flashlights.

Attached is a photo in our maternity unit with the nurses proudly displaying their flashlights and the results of the nights’ efforts in the foreground. Thanks to the donor who provided the ability to keep the maternity unit and the rest of the hospital operational after our power has failed.

Uganda Clinic

In Gamboula, Central African Republic, a grateful user writes:

Outside of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, this entire country uses kerosene lamps and wood fires. It is not uncommon to see people carrying a carrying a flaming bundle of sticks of wood as a sort of torch as they walk home at night. Those with a flashlight will flash it on and off, then walk as far as they remembered seeing before flashing it on and off again. It’s all about saving the energy in that battery (the batteries here are awful). The big fear around here is not tripping – it’s stepping on a snake.

As far as lighting in the home — most folks get home by around 5:30, when it gets dark. They get the cookfires going in front of their houses and huddle around them as a family to get warmth and light. If they managed to save a little extra money for kerosene, then they light a lamp inside the house that allows them to move around and prepare supper – if not, all the activities of the night are done by the light of cook fire. People rarely use flashlights at home – probably because the danger of snakes is reduced on your home turf.

The BoGo solar flashlight is amazing. It seems to soak up energy even when we forget to put it outside! That may not be the case – it may just be holding its charge well. In fact, it has been the perfect thing for helping with our baby. We can leave it on to provide her with comfort long after the generator is turned off.

BoGo in Gamboula