More than 1 billion people around the world don’t have electricity, and even more don’t have access to reliable electricity; when they flip a switch, it may or may not work. While dozens of startups are working on new sources of cheap off-grid energy–from solar panels to gravity-powered lights–one of the challenges that remains is storing electricity so it can be used later.
Juice Box, from the Seattle-based design firm Artefact, might be one answer to that problem: A simple set of batteries that can be charged using anything from a car battery to a wall outlet, and then taken wherever power is needed.
“It’s designed to work with as many different sources as possible,” says Emilia Palaveeva from Artefact. “People in different areas of the world have access to different resources. Some have access to the grid but need to transport energy. Others may have access to solar or something else.”
The Juice Box can be hooked up to a windmill or a microdam, and then can convert energy using a handheld generator. It can even collect kinetic energy from the back of a wheel on a bike or cart, and in emergencies, the batteries can also be charged with a hand crank.
Once the batteries are charged, they can be used for most daily needs. “We designed Juice Box to support not only multiple sources of energy inputs but outputs as well–that is why we call it an open energy system,” says Gavin Kelly, Artefact’s co-founder and principal. “The device can support any device that uses a USB or a 12V output–from cell phones and tablets, to an air purifier, a small stove or fridge.”
The design also comes with a small LED light. “Light has such broad positive impact–for education, productivity, safety, health–that we wanted to include it as part of the core product,” Kelly says.
For now, the design is still just a concept. Bill Gates commissioned the idea for a recent issue of Wired, and now the team at Artefact is looking for the right partners to help make it a reality.
One of the key goals will be keeping the cost as low as possible. But the designers also tried to build a potential source of revenue into the product.
“When we were designing the Juice Box concept, one of our goals was to enable and empower the entrepreneurship of its potential users,” Kelly says. “That is why one key feature is the swappable batteries. We could see people renting them out to enhance their income or sharing them among their community.”
For anyone, whether they make a little money from the product or not, the Juice Box could help change lives by providing reliable power to study, or work, or perform operations, or any number of other things that are hard or impossible to do in the dark.
“We’re giving people the opportunity to be in control and never remain without power,” Kelly says.