MPowerD Lights up the Night at New York Tech Meetup with Luci

Visit the monthly New York Tech Meetup enough times and you get your fill of apps, hacks, and Web-based platforms. So it is a welcome surprise when tangible, physical technology makes its way on stage at Skirball Center for Performing Arts at NYU. Amid last week’s demos for app creation, file sharing, and media wizardry, MPowerD turned down the houselights to show off its solar-powered Luci lanterns.

While solar powered lights are far from new, these inflatable lamps are designed to be low-cost alternatives to kerosene lamps in areas that have unpredictable power or are off the grid entirely.

MPowerD, or Micro Power Design, is a technology incubator and manufacturer in New York that designed the collapsible lanterns. Jill Van den Brule, co-founder and director of communications with MPowerD, presented Luci to the masses at the New York Tech Meetup. She spoke about using the lanterns to potentially reduce risk of burns attributed to flammable light sources, as well as the need to illuminate more of the world.

Van den Brule estimated some 1.6 billion people live off the grid while another 1.5 billion people have irregular access to power. “We’re looking at half the world’s population living in virtual darkness,” she said. Such absence of power can be because of persistent lack of infrastructure or disaster, as seen in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Each Luci needs about six hours of sunlight to charge up its lithium ion battery, which powers ten LEDs within the inflatable, cylindrical lamp. Depending on the settings, each lamp will provide six to twelve hours of ambient light over a 15 square-foot area. The batteries are designed to maintain a single charge for up to three months and last for at least one year of usage. MPowerD is working with partners to develop ways to “upcycle” components from disposed lanterns into other devices.

The lanterns sell on MPowerD’s website for about $16 each, which the company compared to $300 in average annual kerosene costs per household. Van den Brule said she hopes to see Lucis used by disaster relief organizations around the world though the lights can also be used for camping out and other recreational needs. MPowerD is also developing a biodegradable shell for the lanterns and the capacity to charge mobile phones via the sun.

Access to light is often taken for granted in places such as New York—until a blustery storm tears down power lines and overloads transformers. Van den Brule said the need is ever present in refugee camps or slums where lack of light can leave people at risk for violent crime. She called Luci a low-tech innovation to address such problems. “Our goal is to eradicate energy poverty,” Van den Brule said.

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