Timbuk2 Lights Africa with Their FLAP

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by David Schloss on Oct 05, 2009 at 11:04 AM

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Do you ever think about light? I don’t mean things that aren’t heavy, I mean the shining goodness that comes from lightbulbs. Really the only time I’m pondering the wonder that is our electrical grid and its effects is when it’s vanished. Give me a good blackout and I’ll think about sweet sweet luminosity all night.

Seems some other people have a more visionary approach to light. Over at Timbuk2 they’re combining their knowledge of bags with the mission to help bring lighting to third-world countries at the 2009 Pop!Tech conference.

Their idea is to take a messenger bag and integrate a solar panel into the top, allowing people in Africa to use the bag by day and to power low-voltage lights at night. By simply extending useable light a few hours a day a family can be vastly more productive.

Even Timbuk2 realizes that the idea might not work as well as expected, but every good idea has to start somewhere.

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Comments: 2

From my experience in Tanzania as a teacher at school without access to electricity, I am excited by this effort for several reasons. First, cheap plastic bags (a la the grocery ones we have here, but somehow thinner) pose a serious threat to the environment as they are increasingly used. Second, one of the essentials that many students lack is a backpack to hold their books and notes, and as a result their things get torn, damaged by moisture, stolen, and lost.

The solar panel integration is genius for two reasons: light and charging a cell phone. Students have school during the morning and afternoon, and responsibilities at home during the evening and night, leaving only the late night hours for studying. I saw students save up their money for weeks to buy a single flashlight and batteries so they could study at night, usually a group using the solitary beam to illuminate their notes. Cell phones are as ubiquitous in East Africa as they are in the USA, which is hard to imagine, but true. Having a solar panel to charge a cell phone would increase the productivity of people’s daily lives significantly.

It would be very promising to see Timbuk2 launch a business model similar to TOMS shoes, that is for every bag they sell in the US, a bag is given to a kid in need of one in Africa.

This is fine… until they break. Then what, pop down to your local Radio Shack for replacement parts?

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