The Next Billion People

The electricity-defying Gravity Light

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people live without any access to electricity. That’s 18% of the world’s population. So what are we doing to bring power to these people? Jim Reeves and Martin Reddiford have made an incredible step forward with their amazing Gravity Light, a portable, low-cost light that relies on no electricity. At all. With a pulley- and weight-based system, the Gravity Light’s low-power LED can generate 20 to 30 minutes of light on one cycle. This will be of incalculable value to developing nations, where even the basics of life are made onerously difficult by the limited (or no) access to power.

Two years ago, after an enormously successful indiegogo campaign, Reeves and Reddiford produced prototypes, and have been refining their design since. With a second campaign now running, the two have vowed that all funds gathered will go directly to producing a Gravity Light assembly plant in Kenya, providing not only light but much-needed jobs.

Offline maps and affordable phones from Google

In a UN study, it was estimated that 3 billion people currently have access to the Internet. That’s an astonishing figure, even more so when you consider this has all happened within our lifetimes. But while worldwide Internet penetration is an impressive 40%, that means that 60% of the world is still unconnected.

As far back as 2013 Google was working on ways to bring Internet connectivity to the developing world. At yesterday’s Google I/O developers’ conference, connecting the next billion was a major topic. VP of Product Development Jen Fitzpatrick said, “Google is all about making the world’s info universally accessible and useful. If you’re talking about making it universally accessible, that means all the people in the world.” So how is Google taking the Internet to the [rest of the] people? They’re starting by making portions of its maps accessible offline. And while this may seem like a small step, it has great implications for small business here and across the globe. But that’s just the tip of Google’s rumored iceberg. They’re working on ways to rewrite web pages so they load more quickly, a boon to people in areas with spotty WiFi connections. That sounds like a small thing as well, but when you realize each of these is one step in a larger plan, these small things add up.

Google is also working on bringing connected devices to people who who might not have access to the iPhone or Nexus 6 with Android One, their initiative to get cheaper, but powerful phones to people who can’t afford them. We were impressed, yesterday, that much of the focus of this year’s innovations is bringing the Internet to those who need it most.

Power for the people

So while it’s great that people in developing nations might have access to smartphones and Google maps, what good will it do them if, like we said, 18% don’t even have basic access to electricity? Few people in sub-Saharan Africa have landlines, since there’s just no infrastructure to bring them, but between 65-85% of Africans now own cell phones. Enter organizations like Buffalo Grid who are dedicated to bringing power to countries like Uganda. Their solar-powered cell phone charging station is activated via text message, activates a 60-watt panel in the device. eChaja and Juabar work similarly, bringing cell phone power to South Africa, Swaziland, and Tanzania. 

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