Wednesday, February 20, 2008
EDITED TO ADD: More recent information suggests that this post is inaccurate. See the end of the post for the correction.
Via the Mad Rocket Scientist we learn of a so-called "gravity lamp" that provides up to four hours of light (600-800 lumens, equivalent to a 40-watt bulb) from the electricity generated by slowly dropping weights.
The Gravia lamp was invented by Clay Moulton, who won second prize with it in the "Greener Gadgets Conference" held on February 1 in New York. Details of how it works are shown below - click on the image for a larger view (click on the larger picture again to make it even bigger and more legible).
To my astonishment (and disgust) there were a few snide, negative comments following a news report about this achievement. Those commentators have no idea what they're talking about! They have no conception of just how revolutionary this promises to be!
I've traveled extensively in the Third World. I'll bet there are at least a billion people around the world living "off the grid" with no access to electricity at all. For light they rely on candles, kerosene-fueled lanterns, fat- or oil-burning lamps, and so on. Not only are these too dim to make reading and studying practical (except at the cost of very severe eyestrain), but they're a fire hazard too. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people die every year in such blazes.
Now we have this. A simple idea, needing no batteries, its components estimated to last for up to 200 years, and putting out bright, clean light at no running cost whatsoever!
If anything can revolutionize Third World life, it's this. It'll let youngsters study in the evenings without straining their eyes and risking lifelong damage to their sight. It'll save untold lives through removing a major fire hazard. If it can be reduced in size (say, a one-foot-high lantern producing light for one hour) it can be carried on journeys to light the way. Doctors and nurses will be able to see to perform life-saving interventions. Humanitarian missions can now work late into the evening without worrying about fuel for generators (not to mention transporting the heavy generators and their fuel over hundreds of miles of hostile territory in the first place!).
Even in our rich, modern First World it has untold potential. Holiday homes, camping trips, emergency kits in your vehicle, travel trailers, a source of light during power failures, disaster relief in situations such as Hurricane Katrina; all of these needs can be met. I can see the US armed forces using these by the tens of thousands to provide light in field base camp facilities, mobile hospitals and the like. Heck - why not a low-power coffee brewer for field use while we're at it?
If the inventor can get together with a manufacturer and figure out how to produce this at a reasonable cost (and perhaps in a Third World country as well, at a very low cost) this might be the invention of the century for untold millions of people. Even better, if the same principle for the generation of electricity can be developed further to power other appliances, who knows how far it could go? Perhaps a low-cost notebook computer such as the One Laptop Per Child project? A medical appliance to monitor a patient's vital signs in an otherwise power-less rural clinic? Surgical lamps to conduct operations in low light? A radio for communication in emergency? The possibilities are as endless as one's imagination. Talk about unlimited potential!
Well done, Mr. Moulton, and thank you! I hope the full potential of your idea will be speedily realized. You've certainly got me more excited about the Gravia than I've ever been about any other invention!
EDITED TO ADD: It seems my excitement over this invention was premature. Today it was reported that the invention was impossible according to the laws of nature. In a response the inventor agreed with the criticism and offered to return his second prize for his invention. Details of the challenge and response may be found here below the main article.
That's a real pity: but judging from the inventor's response, I don't think any fraud was involved - just an honest miscalculation. Let's hope that something similarly economical can be devised using alternative technologies.
Hat-tip to Al Fin for following up on this story after I e-mailed him about it. He located the new information, which came out after I'd published my original post.