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I want to See in the Dark

February 2, 2017Article

I want to See in the Dark

February 2, 2017
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It is estimated that more than a fifth of the world’s population or approximately 1 billion people have no access to electricity, and a billion more have only an unreliable and intermittent supply. Of the people without electricity, 85% live in rural areas or on the fringes of cities. 600 Million Africans still don’t have access to electricity. In many parts of Africa, night-time economic activities are practically nonexistent.

ADDRESSING THE AFRICAN ENERGY CHALLENGE

To meet these challenges, the Akon Lighting Africa initiative was created to bring clean, renewable and affordable energy solutions primarily to rural and off-grid areas in Africa. Launched in February 2014 by international music star, Akon, entrepreneur Mr. Samba Bathily and youth leader Mr. Thione Niang, the initiative has already successfully impacted communities in 15 countries. Akon Lighting Africa is an initiative started by Solektra International to bring clean, renewable and affordable energy solutions primarily to rural and off-grid areas in Africa. They estimate that without access to electricity, over 3.5 million Africans die every year from harmful pollutants or fires in the home produced by costly and toxic solid fuels. In less than one year, thanks to a private-public partnership model and a well-established network of partners (including SOLEKTRA INT, SUMEC and NARI), a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits, have been installed in 14 African countries. The technology in question, from solar panels to low-energy light-emitting diodes (LEDs), is rapidly falling in price.

GADGETS FOR AFRICANS THAT CAN AFFORD THEM

New gadgets like BlazeSpark and BlazeTorch from eMagin a leader in OLED microdisplay technology, OLED microdisplay manufacturing know-how and mobile display systems. eMagin manufactures high-resolution OLED microdisplays and integrates them with magnifying optics to deliver virtual images comparable to large-screen computer and television displays in portable, lowpower, lightweight personal displays. eMagin’s microdisplays provide near-eye imagery in a variety of products from military, industrial, medical and consumer OEMs.

For under $1,000 you can start your own journey and experience new adventures with BlazeTorch. By putting on the BlazeTorch which comes with a wearable headset users can move through the night, hands free. The BlazeTorch focuses on active users and sports enthusiasts. BlazeTorch is a wearable headset that utilizes eMagin’s OLED micro displays providing completely hands-free operation during night time activities. For under $300, the BlazeSpark will allow consumers to see clear, high-resolution images in the dark by inserting their Android™ cellphone in to a revolutionary case that will display what the night vision sensor is seeing. A BlazeSpark app can be downloaded from Google Play™, which will allow users to share their experience worldwide, record, chat and live stream content within the BlazeSpark network or to other social media sites.

Record your adventure in HD quality video. Upload and share your adventure with night time enthusiasts worldwide on the Blaze night portal. Bring On The Night with BlazeTorch! People will now be able to expand their favourite daytime activities into the night and share their experience through social media in real time.

DESIGN THINKING

In 2014, we asked students of the University of Lagos, Nigeria who were part of the Emerging Startup Collective (ESC) program to come up with alternatively powered solutions for everyday appliances. The award-winning entry is a solar powered refrigerator. A modified version of this refrigerator will be entered into the 2017 edition of the Global LEAP Competition for World’s Most Innovative Off-Grid Refrigerators by USAID and DFID with $600,000 in cash prizes available for the competition’s marketleading innovators

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) Ideas to Impact Programme (I2I) joined the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition, a global competition aimed at spurring innovation in the emerging offgrid refrigeration market and advancing access to modern energy services around the world. I2I’s partnership and support increases the total award purse in the competition to $600,000.

HACKATHON

When Software meets Hardware, a lot can be done. Technology like those developed by eMagin have applications in electricity deprived countries but surely it’s up to the residents in those countries to make a case for affordability? Worst case scenario, platforms that encourage the development of solutions unique to your environment namely Hackathons should be encouraged.

These platforms can not be a replica of the ones in developed markets. A simple developers kit from companies like eMagin may be an easier request than an affordable product line for the African market. A brand ambassador like Akon can push the levels of engagement and partnership with the right enabling factors in place.

Technology is the solution to lighting Africa, however, I believe we have gone about it the wrong way.

Gbonju Akingbade
Partner Image & Time
Techplus Strategic Programme Director