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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 10:29 GMT
See-saw to power African schools
By Hannah Goff
BBC News, education reporter

See-saw for African schools
The proposed see-saw could light a classroom after five minutes
A young inventor is hoping to tap the unbounded energy of children in a playground to power schools in Africa.

Design student Daniel Sheridan has created a simple see-saw which generates enough electricity to light a classroom.

The device works by transferring the power, created by a child moving up and down on it, to an electricity storage unit via an underground cable.

The Coventry University student has won 5,500 in funding to develop the idea.

Power play

The 23-year-old consumer product design student scooped the cash at two separate university student enterprise award schemes and now has enough money to create a working prototype.

Daniel Sheridan
Ultimately I would love to design a whole playground of different pieces of equipment that could generate electricity
Daniel Sheridan

Inspiration for the product began during a volunteering trip to a school on the island of Wasimi, south of Mombasa, in Kenya last summer.

Here, Daniel helped to build a school and even did some teaching.

"The number of children we saw there that loved to play, and their energy and their vibrancy, I thought it would be great if I could somehow make use of this," he said.

"They don't have Gameboys and all the rest. They are just so genuine and keen to help - they would grab the wheelbarrows we were working with given half the chance.

"Considering what little they have, they were so inspiring to be around. It really was quite humbling."

When he returned, Daniel did some research into power through play looking at how he could turn this positive and joyful activity into something useful for the wider community.

Light work

And after talking to experts in development, he hit upon the idea of generating electricity through playground equipment and designed the see-saw.

He said: "The current need for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is staggering. Without power development is extremely difficult.

"The potential for this product is huge and the design could be of benefit to numerous communities in Africa and beyond."

He has calculated that five to 10 minutes use on the see-saw could generate enough electricity to light a classroom for an evening, for example.

Many schools in Africa open their doors in the evening to much older pupils but are only able to light their classrooms with candles or kerosene lamps.

Village dream

However, as the energy from the see-saw can be stored, the owners could decide exactly how they wanted to use it.

He will now travel to a village near to the Ugandan city of Jinja where he will test and finalise the prototype using locally sources parts.

"It would be fantastic if I could get this started as a business or even set it up as a charity.

"Ultimately I would love to design a whole playground of different pieces of equipment that could enough generate electricity to power a whole village."

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