When it comes to communication in rural Africa, cell phone technology has “leap-frogged” land-lines in getting people connected. Now, there’s another opportunity for such a leap: sustainable electricity. Can solar energy take the place of an often nonexistent grid power in charging the ever-increasing number of cell phones in rural Africa? A new concept design from Andrew Williams called “Communication for Rural Africa” may hold the key.
There are a number of big ideas at play here, all of which are aimed at creating a realistic and practical cell phone for rural Africans–environmentally, economically and culturally. First off, the “Communication for Rural Africa” cell phone is powered completely by an onboard solar panel, making use of the abundant sunshine of many rural African regions; the integrated bag works with the fact of an active, outdoor life. Thanks to its lack of a battery, it costs 40% less, making cheap production of these phones far more feasible than a conventional phone. It also lacks the traditional keypad of a cell phone–since, according to Ecofriend, lengthy phone numbers really have no place in rural African culture–and replaces it with a single button, which puts the user through to an operator.
The designer deserves some serious kudos here for thinking through not just the technological challenges associating with connecting the population of far-flung reaches of Africa, but also the whole constellation of factors that affect the integration of such technology into a rural and, in many places, tribal lifestyle. It’s not hard to see a phone like this catching on in remote regions around the world.