That new moon hanging over a midnight work site? It's a balloon, actually. A big, helium-filled, translucent vinyl balloon bearing four lamps and four big mirrors that, tethered 150 feet off the ground, spreads 16,000 watts of light over an area a mile in diameter.
It's the Powermoon HeliMax, the largest of a balloon-lamp line produced by Jürgen Nölle's young company in Germany's Ruhr valley. The balloons are used to light everything from road construction to the scenes of earthquakes, floods, and refugee crises. "One moon can light up a whole village," says Nölle, who has just inked a $2 million deal to supply the Technisches Hilfswerk, Germany's federal disaster-relief organization.
Powermoons are available in an array of sizes, from the HeliMax to the smaller, uninflated, and virtually indestructible Powermoon Profi 1, which is lightweight enough to be delivered by parcel post or to fit in the back of a Volkswagen. They cast an even, glare-free glow and run from $1,200 to $50,000 for the HeliMax.
Nölle, 40, an engineer by training, expects his 35-employee firm to produce 4,000 balloon lamps this year, including some for customers in the United States. They've been used in refugee camps in Indonesia and Rwanda, and by a German-Danish minesweeping team in Afghanistan. "Minesweeping's wonderful to do with a Powermoon light," Nölle says matter-of-factly. "There's no glare, and you can keep track of the moving vehicle."
“Yes, outsourcing countries can deliver admirable technical skills. But innovation is a whole different ball game. It takes renegade thinking, irreverence for the 'right' way, and a culture that rewards breaking the rules.” —Walt Kania
A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.