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Posted on August 12, 2009 by  & 

Energy harvesting blankets for rural patients

The Portable Light Project is a non-profit research, design and engineering initiative that creates new ways to deliver renewable power and light to the developing world. Each Portable Light unit is a simple, versatile textile with flexible photovoltaics and solid state lighting that can be adapted to local cultures and customized by people using traditional weaving and sewing technologies in an open source model. This creates the opportunity for greater levels of cultural acceptance of this technology, particularly for women who are often among the most vulnerable in developing countries.
A Portable Light textile provides bright, white light to read, support cottage industries and facilitate community based education and health care. Each textile generates electrical power to charge cell phones and other small devices. Portable Light maximizes its efficiency through digital communication protocols between linked units. This distributed intelligence allows linked Portable Light units to charge in the sun and work together more efficiently as a group than they could as a collection of individual units. Families benefit from individual ownership of Portable Light and can join their units at times to create a co-operative and sustainable distributed network for community tasks.
The Portable Light team is working with the iTEACH Program in Zwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa and the Massachusetts General Hospital to provide energy harvesting blankets as part of a home care treatment program for rural patients with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) and HIV. Portable Light home care blankets enable patients to generate power and light for their family during treatment.
Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, a co-epidemic of HIV, is a leading cause of death in many communities in South Africa, especially in Kwa Zulu Natal. The numbers of deaths is staggering and it is impossible for many people to come to hospital for treatment. The sterilizing effect of the sun's UV rays and fresh air can help keep the spread of drug-resistant strains of the disease to a minimum. However, many MDR TB patients and their families face economic hardships that complicate the completion of these treatment programs, among these the lack of blankets for patients to keep warm outdoors and little or no access to electrical power. Lack of hope often further reduces the patient's ability to adhere to lengthy and critical medication and treatment regimes.
The Portable Light iTEACH Blanket is designed to help reduce the strain of TB on patients and their family care takers by loaning them a warming blanket that includes integrated flexible solar panels and a detachable textile-integrated LED lantern. Patients who are outdoors during the day are kept warm, and are also able to harvest sunlight to charge the LED lantern and other small devices such as cell phones.
The patient benefits by day, using the blanket to stay warm and comfortable during exposure to fresh air and sunlight. The sun charges the flexible solar panels in three hours creating 4 watts of power which is stored in a rechargeable battery. At night, Portable Light provides over 8 hours bright white light which benefits patient and family and greatly facilitates the necessary night time home care treatment regime. The next day, the Portable Light blanket is re-charged by the patient, who figuratively and literally helps to power his or her own treatment. As an incentive to prevent the rise of drug-resistant strains, patients earn ownership of the blankets upon completion of the treatment program.
Source: Portable Light
Top image of rural homes in South Africa, source: Africa Getaways
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