My involvement in the project started when Sudha Kheterpal, the percussionist of Faithless (some of you in the right age bracket will know them!) contacted me to help her develop an idea she had. She realized that during their gigs there was an incredible amount of energy being released and she felt something useful should be done with that energy.
Sudha’s main purpose was to create enough energy to bring free electricity to Africa, and in particular Kenya, where around 75% don’t have access to electricity. To address this she created Shake Your Power, a community interest company dedicated to creating clean energy solutions through music.
I was really excited to be working on this project because of the social good element and because I felt that the merging of clean tech and music would create a completely new category of products and open a very distinct niche in the hardware market.
My brief was to design a musical instrument ( a maraca) that would generate electricity for light while it was being played. This object was going to be used in the developing world, initially in Africa, and it would need to be very rugged to survive different conditions.
As a designer my work is always influenced by storytelling and I always look for ways in which I can incorporate the cultural specificities in my designs.
So my starting point was to think about the shape itself. I knew it was a hand held product, but I began by thinking about the notion of power. I broke down the initial concepts in three representations of power.
The first was inspired in the flint stone as a symbol for the first source of power we had, fire, and how it was produced.
The second concept was inspired in the flywisk, which is a symbol of authority and power in African countries and the third concept was inspired in the human heart as the center of power for the human body but also it represented rhythm and human connection.
In terms of storytelling I think that is one of the most important elements of the delivery of a design. Ultimately objects are representations of the cultures that created them, they carry values and codes within them, so being able to manage the story they are telling is really important.
I used the idea of the flint stone and made the size roughly that of a human heart. I kept the idea of the heart’s chambers in the interior and determined that those chambers would house the sound beads and electronics.
When I presented the concepts to Sudha, she loved the idea of the heart but also the flint stone, so she said, join the two.
After this stage, I began the tech R&D for the project, and we developed a simple circuit using linear magnetic induction.
We named the product SPARK, and it is a percussion shaker that as its being used, it stores energy on an internal battery, to then be used to power an LED light.
For these initial prototypes we were able to achieve 12 minutes of shaking to give 1 hour of light with the first prototype.
The following videos show how initially we put the prototype together:
The next step was to test the prototypes in Kenya. The team flew over there to see how it would be received and whether the product could really be useful, and in particular we were interested to see whether it could be relevant for schools.
We found that there were 3 main areas of impact:
Light- the shaker provided one hour of light for 12 minutes of shaking but we needed to make it brighter for children to read at night.
Education- people wanted to know what was happening inside of the shaker. They were curious to know how the electricity was being generated.
Mobile phone charging- 75% of the population uses a mobile phone and also 75% of the population lives off the grid, so providing mobile phone charging was also very important.
We were really happy to see the shaker’s potential impact, especially for children to be able to extend their education times at night; but also we realised that the educational side could be through developing assembly kits, where children could learn about the technology behind the shaker and to give them a sense of empowerment realising they can generate their own power.
We ran a Kickstarter to help us fund the patent process and some of the initial R&D in June 2014, and then began a more than a year long process of product development and manufacturing.
We went to China to visit them our manufacturer and to begin the work of translating our design to a manufacturable product.
In terms of the feedback from our beta testing this product was very successful, but we knew we still had to address the issue of demystifying the technology.
So we needed to devise a way to get people and especially young students to learn how to build their own SPARK. So we decided we needed to create a DIY version of the shaker, where we could show exactly how we were generating energy, and it could be replicated by local communities.