In Africa, more than 80 percent of households lack access to energy. Many people light their homes with homemade candles and kerosene lamps that are dangerous and smoky, causing house fires and respiratory problems. The lack of light and power is also a roadblock to economic and societal development, limiting the ability to work, study, and communicate digitally.
Fenix International, a Silicon-Valley startup, sought to tackle this problem with a pay-to-own, personal solar-powered grid. They partnered with MTN, Africa’s largest telecommunications provider, to enable micro-payments using MTN’s Mobile Money digital payment system. In rural Uganda, customers can access lighting and phone charging using the ReadyPay Solar Home System for installment payments of as little as 20 cents a day made through their mobile phones. Fenix has provided affordable power to more than 120,000 people in Uganda in just a year. They are now expanding into Zambia.
Delve was asked to improve upon the first-generation base unit to make it more user friendly – smaller, lighter, easier to use, aesthetically desirable and more modular. Keeping production costs low to keep unit prices down was a critical component of the work.
Through Fenix staff located in Uganda, we learned that their customers desired the clean lines of iconic American design. Most rural residents of Uganda have very little disposable income. The ReadyPay system is an important investment in their future and something that they are proud to display in their homes. The design needed to live up to the product’s high promise while maintaining an extremely low cost of goods to manufacture to remain within economic reach.
For the base unit, we designed a gently curving plastic enclosure that’s attractive and easy for people to move around the home. The design features MTN’s signature yellow color with black accents, adding branding value for Fenix’s partner.
Designing the embedded digital interface was a central challenge of the project. The type of technology, placement of the screen and information displayed were all carefully considered. The display space is only 1 x 2.5 inches and must communicate battery and solar charging levels, cellular network signal strength and activity, ReadyPay status, errors, and device connections such as a cell phone or light.
The team ended up turning to an old technology, segmented LCD, as the basis of the display. It was a tradeoff of low-cost and clarity versus flexibility that was informed by the need to keep the unit affordable.
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