Device helps light poor villages

May 15, 2003, vol. 27, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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Eric Hennessey, with his tiny logging device and hand-held data collector. Hennessey designed the system to track usage of energy efficient lamps in remote villages for the Light Up The World Foundation.

Eric Hennessey wants to shed a little light on how an international organization is illuminating villages in developing nations.

The fifth year SFU engineering student has created a data logger that can track usage among the solid-state lighting systems produced by the Light Up The World Foundation, currently being used in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Hennessey is taking the device to the region this summer to test it and determine its potential in helping the agency promote its work.

“There is a great impact in being able to say to their sponsors that in a particular village in India last year, their lamps received 10,000 hours of usage, providing light that would otherwise not exist,” says Hennessey, who leaves May 24. He will work with Light Up The World representatives and the foundation's partner, Pico Power Nepal, in remote villages in the Himalayas.

The lamps are powered by renewable resources and use efficient, long-life light emitting diodes. Founded by a University of Calgary professor, the organization has more than 1,000 lamps operating in rural villages throughout the region.

Given his passion for designing products to help the less fortunate, Hennessey approached the foundation with the idea for his logger last summer.

“I thought a data logging system could quantify the usefulness of the lamps by tracking the hours and times of usage, along with other performance characteristics,” says Hennessey. “It turned out that they were trying to figure out a way to do just that.”

Hennessey will take 10 of his devices with him as he spends the next three months setting up systems and monitoring usability issues. As many as 500 of the devices could eventually be put into use.

The logger measures about an inch wide. Once connected to a lamp it is capable of storing data on the lamp's usage in a memory bank. The data will later be transferred to a hand-held collector and can eventually be uploaded onto a computer.

The device had to be designed to withstand a range of elements, from the heat and dust of villages in India to the cold climate of the Himalayas.

To that end, Hennessey, who formed his own design company called Helius Designs Incorporated, has been working on the project since last September. He was able to receive elective credit for the work and has presented the project and his humanitarian perspective (calling it A Little Hope) at major conferences across the country, resulting in several awards.

Most of his expenses have been covered through the SFU-administered John Wighton fund, which supports projects benefiting society.

Hennessey, who is also president of the SFU chapter of Engineers Without Borders, hopes his contribution will inspire others to apply their professional skills for the good of others, rather than strictly for profit. He has donated his logger design to the foundation.

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