Last week, a group of volunteer physics undergraduates and other science students got started talking about making emergency cell phone chargers for Yolanda victims. A fifth year physics student Gilian Uy, a member of the Instrumentation Physics Laboratory at the National Institute of Physics, posted her idea on Facebook and asked her friends and myself to pitch in. As her electronics subject instructor, I organized a hackathon in my laboratory so that we can collectively make these devices for relief and rehabilitation.
We called the project Lightline since in emergencies such as typhoons, electrical power is usually the first one to go and service would not be due for a few weeks.
Power in old batteries
People lose charge in their cell phones and we usually don’t have new batteries on hand. The device that the students made can extract the remaining energy inside those old batteries so that you can send that text message or light up your way a few meters more. This allows the device to extend the charge in the cell phones for that one remaining important text—hence the name Lightline.
Lightline is a temporary cell phone charger that pushes old battery sources to their limits using an electronic device called a “Joule thief”. The device uses the remaining energy in the battery and ramps it up in voltage using the transformers found in cell phone chargers.
It is a simple circuit with cheap components designed to raise the voltage of a power source (eg. batteries, solar cells). This device is known for its ability “steal” energy (hence the term “thief”) from batteries that have been otherwise considered empty. Its energy-harvesting capabilities can be attributed to the high current draw on the input.
A varied team of alumni and students from UP Diliman and nearby schools such as the Ateneo and International Electronics and Technical Institute (IETI) in Marikina came to the laboratory and spent their free time to assemble the portable chargers. Several old chargers and USB cables were gathered from donations and taken apart for their components. This contributed greatly to making Project LightLine a low-cost project.
Putting ideas to work
Project LightLine is one of the numerous relief efforts for the benefit of Yolanda victims. It aims to reuse old circuit components, particularly those from old chargers, to create new portable chargers.
It is a good example of making the ideas that students learn inside classrooms concrete by tackling a problem that people in disaster areas are facing. We need to find ways to extend lighting and power in areas affected by the storm and Lightline is one way to do it.
The everyday household item that people often consider as waste, such as your old cell phone chargers can be transformed into a much-needed device in the field.
In future disaster events, it can people an extra minute in their phone, LED lighting when you most need it, and to efficiently extract maximum energy from batteries before their disposal.
The project also provides volunteer physics, engineering and other undergraduates to use their skills to construct the device and help in the relief and rehabilitation effort in the Visayas.
The constructed items will be coursed through Brigada Kalikasan (brigadakalikasan.serverthepeople.com) for delivery to other areas in the Visayas. Other groups that I belong to, CPU, Center for Environmental Concerns, TXTPower and Agham, also mobilized their respective networks to call for the donation of additional food supplies and old chargers. This is in recognition of the fact that food, clothing and water are still the primary need in the devastated areas.
Project Lightline harnesses the volunteerism spirit that was unleashed by the series of disasters that we witnessed. There was the Bohol earthquake, which was followed by Typhoon Yolanda a few weeks after.
Everyone was moved to help and many indeed responded in kind and in time. Yet the people of the Visayas need more in the following weeks as we hunker down in the harder task of rehabilitation.
Disasters should not surprise us. In fact, what surprised— and dismayed— many was the slow response of both the local and national governments in bringing in aid and relief to the typhoon struck areas.
Despite a declaration by President Aquino that 20 Philippine Navy ships (in areas not hit by the storm: Cebu, Bicol, Cavite, and Zamboanga) were ready to bring supplies and relief after the typhoon, nothing much was heard except political bickering and finger pointing.
Storm related disasters comprise nine out of ten of the most destructive events in our country in terms of costs. Seven out of the top ten disasters in terms of deaths are also storm related. The national government should have prepared. We do not want to hear their excuses or finger pointing for the failure of their systems.
Yet it is the whole system of poverty, inequality and injustice that really have failed us here. The vulnerability of our poor is rooted in the deep poverty of our people. We should not only climate-proof ourselves by getting ready against these disasters but the government should also strengthen our capacity by giving us domestic jobs, living wages and national industries.
You can visit Project Lightline at fb.com/ProjectLightline.