Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Solar Lights from Soda Bottles 

We recently ran across an illuminating video that depicts the exact antithesis of advanced digital manufacturing technology with its high performance computers and sophisticated modeling and simulation software. We thought you might enjoy seeing it.

solar bottle lightThis story celebrates a unique use of technology consisting of recycled plastic soda bottles, pieces of corrugated metal, water, chlorine, and a chisel and hammer.

It’s a reminder that one of the goals of manufacturing is to provide products that can enhance people’s lives. In this case, these solar bottle lights of the Philippines are positively transformative.

In a city just south of Manila, there are many people living in shacks made of corrugated metal that are cobbled together without windows. If you’re inside during the day, the interior is pitch black. Turning on the lights, if you have electricity, is expensive and so people fumble around in the dark even though the sun is shining brightly outside.

The solution is stunning in its simplicity. You take an empty plastic soda bottle, fill it with water and chlorine to prevent algae, cut a hole in the roof, position the bottle and let the sun shine in. One soda bottle provides the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb.

We have a number of initiatives in the US designed to create jobs by bringing digital technology modeling, simulation and analysis to small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies. Most of these efforts are just getting underway. But in the Philippines, the manufacture of solar bottle lights is already creating jobs for entrepreneurial individuals armed only with hammer and chisel as their primary manufacturing tools. Not an HPC system in sight.

When the video was made, one-thousand bottles had been installed and the demand was soaring. The plan is to light millions of homes in the Philippines and then take this green, inexpensive, low-tech solution to other developing countries. “A third-world solution to third-world problems,” reports CBS News’ Barnaby Lo.

The brief video (it’s only three minutes and 15 seconds long) is a reminder that manufacturing is a continuum — one that ranges from designing spacecraft for exploring the cosmos to simple products that can bring light where before there was only darkness.

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