Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This is potentially HUGE!!!

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.



Anonymous said...

Impressive. Simple, dead reliable energy storage. Weights lifted to a height. I'll take two. Beats the heck out of those hand-cranked radios and stuff for energy storage - No battery. The brass weights could be replaced with water, making a water tank and a pair of these a continous power source. Lift the water with whatever's handy. (Hand pump, windmill, energetic kids with buckets...) I would very much like to see where this goes. And to have to travel a long way to get there.

- Chris

dneylon said...

This is fantastic. I'm wondering how hard it would be to make it reversible so that turning it over would continue the process in the opposite direction. How does it reset the weights now I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, turn it over like an hourglass.
The reason for the snide remarks is most journalists have no damn clue about anything.

Diamond Mair said...

Another effect, in Third World countries, will be a lowering of the birth rate - studies were done in rural areas of India, with some villages' women being given necklaces with movable beads of different shapes, to enable them to practice Vatican roulette; problem WAS, the women figured the "magic" was in the beads themselves, and just moved them to "safe" positions - but when other villages 'got on the grid', thanks to light after dark, radio program availability, etc., the birth rates went down.
Semper Fi'

Anonymous said...

Wow- having spent quite a few non-romantic candle lit nights in Papua New Guinea, that is just incredible. Especally the part about not having to either use smoky bad kerosene, dim candles, or my personal favorite: Jet A-1 in a Deitz hurricane lantern (brighter and cleaner than kero, but much hotter with a chance of going boom.

-Joe ex PNG

Justin Buist said...

Thanks for updating the post. I initially saw this on Slashdot where it was promptly torn apart by.

The numbers I saw there said that this would only work if you had a full 2000 pounds of weight being dropped, and yeah, that's about right.

I don't really see a way of working something like this into 3rd world countries. Candles will have to do for now.

You could power something like this if you had a car that you could drive up on a ramp outside the house, but that would require a car. Failing that you could use a 2 ton sled of metal, but that's costly as all get-out too and now you've got the danger of sliding all that weight up a ramp. Or, if the ramp is too dangerous, but you've still got $1k to spend on dead metal weight, you could rig up leg press that'd let you do slide it up there in 200lb increments, but lighting a candle is SO much easier.

Al Fin said...

As I understand the problem, the inventor assumed he was calculating "grams" when he should have been calculating "kilograms." He was off by a factor of a thousand in computing his potential energy due to gravity. e=m*h*g

He admitted his mistake, though, which is far more than people like Michael Mann or James Hansen could ever bring themselves to do.