Solar-Powered Bags: A Bright Idea for Africa?


Showing the FLAP bag to a group of Ghanian mechanics. Photo via AfriGadget.

Can an urban hipster's trendy tote also serve the needs of poor Africans? AfriGadget's Erik Hersman is traveling through Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, meeting with motorcycle mechanics, tailors, and roadside food vendors to try and find out.AfriGadget, as many regular Treehugger readers know, is a tech site with a twist, a blog that showcases the creativity of people "bending the little they have to their will." So founder Hersman was a logical person to call on for a group of designers and techies trying to figuring out if a solar-powered messenger bag could play a useful role in places where electricity is unreliable at best.

Portable Power and Light
Working with the folks behind the Pop!Tech conference, Sheila Kennedy of the Portable Light project, and bag-makers Timbuk2, the do-gooding blogger is spending a few weeks taking 10 prototype FLAP -- Flexible Light and Power -- bags around the three African countries and investigating whether they would be a) "useful, usable, and... adaptable to everyday life in Africa" and b) possible to replicate from locally available materials.

The messenger bags, which have a removable flap with a solar panel that charges a built-in LED light and USB connection, are so far drawing fairly positive response from the locals Hersman talks to, a process he's documenting with video interviews and blog entries on his site.

A street mechanic in Ghana "absolutely loved it, recounting the many times he was traveling around and needed light at night to fix his motorcycles." A vendor of used goods asked if the bags were washable. Two tailors were intrigued enough to try their hands at assembling the bags -- and installing a basic portable light kit in bags of their own design, using traditional textiles. "They didn’t think they would use the bags that much themselves," writes Hersman. "But they did think that their wives would find them useful."

More about innovative ideas from AfriGadget:
The All-New Toyota Cowrolla!
Maker Faire Heads to Africa
The Blackboard Blogger of Liberia
Togolese Bottle Opener is Decidedly Non-Tech
Hybrid Merri-Go-Round Water Pump Saves Lives in Africa
Less is More: Revisiting AfriGadget
Afrigadget: The 'Can Do' Attitude Personified

Tags: Africa | Eco-Friendly Bags | Gadgets | Ghana | Kenya | Solar Gadgets | Solar Technology | Uganda

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