A student employs research-led design to bring light to rural darkness.
Life should never stop after sundown. Safe and sound after dark, illuminated sidewalks and bright and bustling kitchens should be the inheritance of all of humanity, not just a few. At
Parsons School of Design, students are challenged to address some of the world’s most pressing inequities through design. In her capstone class focused on socially responsible design, Yogita Agrawal, a BFA Product Design student, created a
groundbreaking affordable lamp for communities still living off the electricity grid.
After spending time in rural villages near her mother’s hometown in India, Agrawal was struck by the lack of human activity after dusk. She hoped to develop a light source without the hazards and unsustainability of kerosene or the initial expense of solar panels. Approaching the problem with an eye to design, she noted that
everyone in the village walked everywhere: from home to school to temple to shops to home again. Dovetailing this site-specific variable with her main challenge, Agrawal conceived Jhoule, a lamp that transforms walking into pure light.
Jhoule is a portable light fixture that attaches at the waist and unspools a cord that fastens to the ankle. The device employs a spring-loaded reel that spins a small generator-and-battery assembly. The energy created by the person walking is stored and
powers an LED bulb — every step taken charges the lamp. It can then be held or attached to a wall, bike, ceiling, or person, illuminating rural paths and homes after nightfall.
To encourage Jhoule users to embrace her innovation, Agrawal based the design on a traditional keychain worn by women in India. Jhoule hooks onto garments in the same way and incorporates local, handmade bindis (a symbol of the sun) to help users better connect
with the product. The housing is made of brass — a familiar and locally sourced material — and community artisans can customize the exterior features to their tastes.
Following Jhoule’s invention, Agrawal received Parsons’ Michael Kalil Endowment for Smart Design Student Grant and the James Dyson Award. She is currently exploring ways to scale up local production of the lamp and bring light to the darkest of paths.
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