February 25, 2010

Pedal Power Progress in Arusha

Posted in Advance Trip tagged at 8:17 pm by kampala2capetown

The cell phone, seen charging above, is juicing with just the power generated from a single speed bicycle. In Arusha, Tanzania we have met up `with a main technology partner for the road show, Global Cycle Solutions, and it has been very exciting. But before jumping to our day with the amazing pedal powered cell charger, a little background.

Global Cycle Solutions (GCS) was spun off from innovative research and field work done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  GCS was founded as a for-profit social enterprise by a team of MIT collaborators in July 2009. The students won a top prize at the MIT 100K business plan competition, and from that prize money they were able to launch an African headquarters in Arusha.

GCS sells bicycle attachments which have the ability to create jobs and incomes for individuals living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Their first product for GCS was a maize sheller, painted blue in the picture above. Most farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are shelling their maize crop by hand, a labor intensive and time consuming process. The sheller works at a pace 40 times faster than the traditional method.

After checking out the GCS HQ and the sheller we headed out to learn about the exciting pedal powered cell phone charger. The Road Show advance team was lucky enjoy to arrive into Arusha just as the new innovation from Global Cycle Solutions was ready for its first round of product testing. The charger was invented Bernard Kiwia, pictured above. Bernard was working as a bike mechanic when three years ago he attended a design conference called the International Development Design Summit. While there, he met innovators from around the world. When he arrived back into Arusha, he was changed forever and had a new urge to create.

During the months after the design conference, Bernard began to experiment with all types of pedal powered devices and bicycle inspired machinery. Devices ranged from a pedal powered hacksaw, to a windmill from bicycle parts, to the pedal powered drill press seen above. While many of the devices he created did not have commercial appeal, there was one that he knew had market potential, a bicycle cell phone charger.  As a working design was born, Global Cycle Solutions was also beginning to develop and a partnership offered the perfect channel for the invention to reach a point of scaling

Nearly two years after the Bernard’s conception of the idea, the device is finally ready to hit the market. Bernard invited us into his antique VW Beetle and we set out to distribute the latest version of the design to be tested in a village outside Arusha this is not connected to the grid. After cruising down a dusty road for a few minutes, we came upon a gentleman on a bike and Bernard inquired if he owned a Nokia phone. When he answered positively, Bernard explained in Ki-Swahli what he could offer, and after a look of disbelief, a big grin came over the man’s face.

And so, on the side of a quiet rural Tanzanian road, Bernard armed himself with a screw driver and a pedal power cell phone charger and went to work on his installation. Between the sky blue VW Beetle and open Tanzania countryside, the scene was almost surreal.

The device is actually quite simple, the majority of the parts come from recycled bicycles, and the generator that charges the phone is the same used in old radios. The pricing that Global Cycle Solutions is looking at is around $10 USD.

When Bernard demonstrated that the charger worked and could easily detaches from the bicycle, relieving some theft concerns, what we saw was a very happy customer.  After taking down the number of the phone, for further feedback on how the device is running, we jumped back into the Beetle and saw an even bigger grin on Bernard’s face.

The road show crew wondered why Bernard had chosen to do the installation on the roadside and not at a more populated area, but when we stopped at a local shop to install on another bicycle, we saw why.  As soon as word got out what Bernard was offering, a crowd gathered and everyone clamored to get a device on their bicycle.

One gentleman, who had no power in his cell phone when we met him, immediately turned over the bicycle and began to charge. Bernard told us that this would often happen when he first installed the device. When we left the scene and headed home, there was a scent of the start to something big in the air.

The Tech Road Show falls at a perfect moment for Bernard, Global Cycle Solutions and the pedal powered cell phone charger and it is a prime example of why we are driven to make our World Cup program happen.  To spread technologies like the maize sheller and phone charger to rural villages, you cannot reach them with a TV spot or newspaper advertisement, you must find a way to demonstrate it to them face to face. And not only will the technology proprietors gain from the demonstrations and exhibitions, but perhaps a youth will see the device will go down the road of Bernard adn realize they too have the power of innovation…

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