LUCI the solar latern

Many people ask me about the story of Luci and how invented her so I decided to share that story with you here.

In case you don't know about Luci she is an inflatable solar lantern. Unlike other solar power products, Luci incorporates the functions of a task light, flash light and diffused lantern. Luci has a rechargeable lithium-ion (polymer) battery and weighs only 4.5 ounces making it compact, lightweight and collapsible for travel, is durable and reliable in extreme weather conditions and can easily be attached to a wall or ceiling.

Unlike other solar lights it has no screws or bolts or hard surfaces and is basically one solid piece of material. Luci was designed to be independent of a power grid. Luci is the solution where light is inaccessible or unaffordable. Luci is a clean, low-cost, sustainable energy provider. Luci provides a dependable solution where there are unreliable or absent electrical services. once Luci is acquired, there are no further costs associated with lighting. 

Luci was created to empower the developing world through solar power, providing greater equity to those without access to electricity. The true promise of solar-powered lighting as a solution to energy poverty lies in the opportunities Luci will create for individuals and their communities.

So here's how she came into being. On a cold, windy day in January of 2011 my friend of 30 years, John Salzinger, invited me to lunch at Serge in NYC to meet with Jacques Philippe Piverger. Jacques had started a foundation called The Global Syndicate that was doing all kinds of work to benefit Haiti where Jacque's family is from. During that lunch Jacques explained what a mess Haiti still was after the earthquake and how he was recruiting people and ideas to help by developing opportunities through his foundation. John told me that he was going with Jacques on a mission to Haiti.

I shared the output of my lunch conversation with my then business partner Steve Gundersen who was on the board of the company that commercialized my JAGTAG inventions. Steve and I had started an innovation consultancy after JAGTAG was sold to Augme and we were looking for new stimulus and opportunities to accelerate ideas. Steve decided to join John on the trip to Haiti. When we met after they returned it was as if something had stirred deep inside of them. They shared with me the beauty of Haiti and the horrors of the infrastructure resulting from the earthquakes devastation. It was then I started to really understand the impact of energy poverty.

Before that meeting with John and Steve energy poverty was merely a concept to me. It wasn't something I truly appreciated or fully understood. The way I simply walk in a room and flip a switch, or open the refrigerator, charge my phone, power on the microwave, etc. But for more than half the people that live on our planet these things are a dream. It has been over 100 years since the rural electrification of the United States and yet half of our planet still lives without reliable access to electricity. In a time when the iPad, released in just April of 2010, is now part of the fabric of our lives, the idea that nearly half the people in the world cannot get access to electricity is madness to me.

Solar lanterns are not a new concept. There are literally hundreds of different models. Each with a slightly different take on the same basic utility. At their core they all fundamentally do the same thing. Charge in the sun - give light in the dark. A simple, elegant notion. Of course, the tech to make that happen is nothing short of miraculous. 

Not due to complexity necessarily but due instead to the trade-offs involved. For example duration to charge, battery capacity, weight of the lantern, the number of parts, the overall life of the lantern, the ease of use all of these and more make up the calculus which makes every lantern unique. And all of these attributes are critical factors in the design of a solar lantern. I fundamentally believed that I could invent a better solar lantern and I did. 

On St. Patrick's Day of 2012 I sat in my apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey with withTommy Kunc-Jasinski then an engineering student from NJIT and the boyfriend of my wife's cousin. Tommy and I had lunch at a Thai restaurant in Hoboken and talked at length about my sketches and ideas for a new kind of solar lantern. We discussed the attributes that I believed were critical - making one last long enough and be bright enough to deliver a baby, cook or read. That it had to be both a task light but also produce ambient light so that it could be carried to the latrine at night. And, it needed to be dust and waterproof. It needed to be lightweight and durable. It had to last for years and it needed to be relatively inexpensive. It had to be cheaper and safer than a kerosene lamp.

So we set to it. We started cutting up and soldering together bottles, balloons, cans, light bulbs - everything we thought of that might make sense. We were fixated on a solution that the would not only embody all of the characteristics I have described but also would be collapsible, reflective, and most importantly human and friendly. I set out thinking about designing a lantern with a maniacal focus on simplicity. That is something I learned developing software. Something critical that was taught to me by my former boss at AOL David Gang. That the best answer is always the simplest. 

The first Luci that came out of my kitchen bares little resemblance to the the one you can buy from Amazon today. It was part plastic bottle with a bellows that collapsed and expanded and had two kinds of lights. But at the core it is the same. All of the sketches and plans that resulted from the first Luci eventually evolved into the product that is celebrated the world over today.

There were probably 30 or so prototypes. After we got the first dozen or so my wife Jade provided a huge insight. The lantern had to be round. Until that point I was focusing on cubes, origami folding lanterns, and bellows-like collapsible shapes. But Jade, a professor educated as an Art Historian made it clear that the archetype for a lantern that is fundamentally female should be round. And she was right. The light needed to be round. Also at about this time my son who was 4 at the time gave Luci her name.  

My son loved the Luci lights. He played with them for hours. They didn't have a name yet. He was learning some Spanish words and during the summer he learned the the word 'Luciérnaga' which means firefly. He saw the blinking or "emergency" functionality of the lantern and said it was a Luciérnaga or Luci. And that's how she got her name. 

After that it was just grinding to get the product right. All through June of 2012 John Salzinger and I would spend hours sitting in a dark rooms with a dozen or so different Luci prototypes on the table trying to determine what direction to move. What we should do next. And eventually we nailed it. 


LUCI IMPROVES QUALITY OF LIFE


WORKFORCE
Increases productivity and promotes the creation of jobx

EDUCATION
Lengthens study time and improves conditions

HEALTH & SAFETY
Reduces incidents of pulmonary diseases, kerosene burns and risk of gender based violence

 

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SOCIAL
Increases community relations and reduces community violence

ENVIRONMENTAL
Decreases CO2 emissions which damage the environment

ECONOMY
Saves money ordinarily spent on kerosene which in turn stimulates the economy

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS


Weight

  • 4.5 Ounces

Size

  • 5" Diameter
  • 1" Height Collapsed
  • 4" Height Open
  • Open Panel Dimension - 3.35"x3.35"

Power

  • Open Circuit Voltage (Voc) 4.3V
  • Optimum Operating Voltage (Vmp) 2.6V
  • Short Circuit Current (Isc) 3.5A
  • Optimum Operating Current (Imp) 220mA 
  • Rated Watts 0.6W
  • Voltage DC
  • Amps 200mA
  • Output Voltage of the Battery 3.7V
  • Working Voltage of LED Need ≥2.6V
  • Storage Temperature: -20°C~28°C, not to exceed 60°C

PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS

  • Charge time of 8 hours yields a minimum of 6-12 hours of light
  • Luci charges under direct sunlight and even under incandescent light
  • Maintains a single charge for 3 months
  • Ten white Light Emitting Diodes (LED’s) with 4000 mcd light source
  • Two brightness levels to conserve battery life
  • Flashing-light setting for emergency situations
  • Delivers up to 80 lumens providing 15 sq ft of light
  • The rechargeable lithium polymer battery pack can be charged while collapsed or expanded
    • 300 - 500 cycle life
    • Over charge/discharge protection
    • Over current and short circuit protection
  • Waterproof PVC enclosure
  • Minimum lifespan of 2 years