PLAN 72: Article
Portable Light Project Wins International Award

Energy-Harvesting Textiles Deliver Power to the Developing World

A groundbreaking energy project directed by Sheila Kennedy, newly-appointed Professor of the Practice of Architecture and a founding principal of KVA MATx, a Boston architecture firm, has been selected by California’s prestigious Tech Museum of Innovation as one of 25 global innovations that benefit humanity.

The Portable Light Project, a 2008 Tech Museum Laureate in economic development, is one of five international innovations eligible for a $50K cash prize to be awarded in November. In addition to Kennedy, the interdisciplinary Portable Light Team includes alumni Sloan Kulper (SB'03, Architecture) and Casey Smith (SM'02, Media Arts and Sciences) who have worked on the project since 2004.

The Portable Light Project is a nonprofit research, design and engineering initiative established by KVA MATx that creates new ways to deliver renewable power and light to people in the developing world. The Portable Light Team has designed and developed an adaptable solar textile kit with embedded thin film photovoltaics, solid state lighting and efficient digital drive electronics.

Portable Light kits enable people in the developing world to create and own energy harvesting textiles in an open source integration model. In collaboration with local NGO’s, people in different global regions can adapt the Portable Light kits to meet their specific needs, using local materials and traditional textile braiding, weaving and sewing techniques to create energy harvesting textile bags, blankets and clothing. The Portable Light kits are particularly advantageous for women in traditional cultures who are among the most vulnerable groups in developing countries and often have least access to technology.

As people go about their daily activities, the Portable Light textiles harvest energy. At night, stored energy provides bright, white light to read, support cottage industries and facilitate community-based education and health care. The textiles also generate renewable power to charge cell phones and other small devices.

Portable Light has been serving indigenous communities in the Mexican Sierra Madre since 2005. New Portable Light projects are underway for Nicaragua, through the Paso Pacifico program; for the Brazilian and Venezuelan Amazonas through Tele-Salud Medicos; and for Zwa-Zulu Natal through the iTEACH program at Edendale Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital. The Portable Light Team is working with the Rocky Mountain Institute to scale the project.

Established in 2001, the Tech Awards recognize Laureates in five universal categories – education, equality, environment, economic development and health. The sponsor of the awards, the Tech Museum of Innovation, engages people of all ages and backgrounds in exploring and experiencing the technologies affecting their lives, and aims to inspire the innovator in everyone. In addition to the Tech Museum Awards, its signature programs include the Tech Challenge, an annual student design competition founded in 1988.