2011-11-30

Co.Exist

An Inflatable Lantern For Disaster Relief, Powered By Crowdfunding

After blowing up on IndieGoGo, the LuminAID is going to be appearing on both the shelves of American stores and in disaster areas around the world.

In between the projects touting accessories to high end electronics on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, more and more breakout projects for good are starting to emerge on the crowdfunding sites. The LuminAID inflatable disaster relief light, a simple solar-powered LED lantern designed for easy transport and rugged use, is the latest proof that crowds are willing to fund aid products for others.

What makes the LuminAID so compelling is its shape and portability. “It can collapse and pack flat, but it also inflates to diffuse the light like a lantern,” explains Anna Stork, cofounder of LuminAID. “For people who are used to using kerosene lanterns… the quality of light is similar.”

The project’s origins are in disaster relief. “LuminAid started in January 2010, two weeks after the Haiti earthquake,” recalls Stork. She and her partner Andrea Sreshta were in a workshop focused on design for disaster at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture.

“It was a quick idea,” she explains. “As architects, we were looking at inflatable structures that could be erected very quickly after a disaster.” She had heard reports of dangerous nighttime conditions in crumbled Port-au-Prince streets, with spikes in reported rapes and violence on the dark, warren-like paths of the vast tent cities. So Stork and Sreshta turned the inflatable brainstorming to the topic of illumination.

It charges in six hours of sunlight, and delivers four to six hours of light. There’s a bright setting for reading and a dimmer one for ambient light. Designed for post-earthquake tent cities, it’s also great for American camping trips which, Stork figures, makes it ripe for a buy-one-give-one funding model, something she’s proving will work on LuminAID’s IndieGoGo fundraising page.

Right now, through the IndieGoGo campaign, you can buy one light for yourself and give one to a partner aid agency for $25. Stork thinks the price can come down to $16 as the company scales up production and moves to an online store. And for massive bulk orders from aid agencies, she predicts the cost could run as low as $5 or $6. “It will take us some time to get to those price points because of the scale of production, but we’re pretty close,” says Stork.

“IndieGoGo was a way for us to test out the give one, get one scenario…” When it launched the online campaign for $10,000 earlier this month they had only built about 50 to 75 lights by hand for prototype field testing. With 10 days left, the campaign has already quadrupled the goal. Money came in so quick, they’ve already placed their first bulk order to be manufactured from China.

LuminAID will make 4,000 lights--about four times what they originally planned to give away. They are being sent to partner aid and development groups for use around the world, including Pencils of Promise and Sister Solar. The more aid agencies get these for free, the more they can test out the product for potential bulk buy. “I think that will help us to build partnerships and to test out products with organizations we would love to have buy this product in large quantities in the future,” says Stork.

The online sales campaign success has also attracted business offers. Several camping companies have contacted Stork asking to license and distribute the LuminAID lantern, she says. So Stork and Sreshta are mulling their options for a retail rollout. They expect the inflatable lights to hit American store shelves in some form “in the coming months.”

LuminAID

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