Charge Your Phone Anywhere

A little old-fashioned energy is all you need to get your phone working again.

Some technology gets so sophisticated so quickly that we forget the simple things in life. Like electricity. Even though can charge your phone from just about anywhere – even your suitcase – there are still many places in the world without so much as an outlet. Two Case Western engineering students are looking to bring it back to the basics.

You might wonder why someone without electricity would be concerned with cell phones at all. According to a Case Western Reserve University article, the number of people with cell phones is File:Lesotho Makhaleng.jpgconsiderably larger than those with access to electricity in some locations.

That is why Samuel Crisanti and Ian Ferre took on the challenge of creating a robust, remote charging station suitable for use in locations without the modern accoutrements many of us enjoy. The two worked on the project for a class taught by chemical engineering professor, Daniel Lacks. The course, “Engineering for the World’s Poorest,” takes on exactly those issues, and he was impressed with the undergrads’ idea.

The concept is a foot-powered charging station which operates something like an old sewing machine. Repetitive depression of a pedal is converted to rotational motion of a generator which provides the power to charge a phone and/or power a small LED lamp.

The project was so intriguing that Lacks suggested they forgo their final paper and write a proposal for funding instead (who’s going to pass that up?). The two applied to the U.S. EPA and were awarded $15,000, which they used for supplies and a trip to the Kingdom of Lesotho, a small country within South Africa.

After multiple design revisions and prototypes completed with the support of Case Western’s university-based innovation center, think[box], the two came up with a 3-D printed version which they are using for field trials. The latest version cost $12 to 3-D print, but the two plan to apply for more funding so they can buy injection molds. The goal is to reduce the cost to less than $5, which is within reach of their potential customers which make $1 to $2 a day.

This is a nice example of a class leading to innovation leading to experience securing funding leading to international experience leading (possibly) to more innovation and funding. Not bad for a class project.


Image: River Makhaleng Gorges in the Highlands of Lesotho, taken by Eckhard Pecher