Professional percussionist Sudha Kheterpal has often wondered what kind of energy musicians generate when they play their instruments, and if there is some way to harness it. Last year she began researching and developing this idea by fusing her passions for music and sustainability. She soon partnered up with the founder of the sustainable design firm Golondrina, Diana Simpson Hernandez, to design a device that would create electricity by playing music.
The result was SPARK – a musical instrument that successfully generates energy when you play it. Kheterpal started SPARK’s project Shake Your Power to connect people through music and education while providing them with a mobile source of renewable energy. The device is shaped like a heart to symbolize the central strength of the human body and spirit, and the outside geometric contours resemble the concept of flint stones struck to cause a spark — the inspiration for the name of the instrument as a source of energy inspiring new beginnings.
As the instrument is shaken like a maraca, beads inside the device rattle around to create music while a magnet slides back and forth inside a solenoid made of copper wire. This induces a current through the loops of the solenoid, which charges the internal battery. The electricity generated is then accessible via a USB outlet to power devices such as LED lights or cell phone chargers.
Currently, 12 total minutes of shaking can power a light for an hour. For example, if SPARK is played a couple times throughout the day or during a music lesson, it can provide light for a home that evening. This is especially useful in countries such as Kenya, where 75% of the population doesn’t have access to electricity. Combining this with the fact that music plays such a central role in the daily lives of children in Kenya, Kheterpal realized that this would be the perfect place to launch the product. She has already visited several communities there to determine the usability of the working prototype, and found that all varieties of generations found it both fun and helpful.
Once the battery in SPARK is charged, the energy can power an LED light, which children found to be very useful for walking home at night and for doing homework after school. Additionally the reliable power source can be used to charge cell phones to allow users in rural areas to contact emergency medical facilities, and to access M-PESA, an essential mobile money transfer system in Kenya.
Although the working prototype has been tested and is ready, Kheterpal has started a Kickstarter page to fund the distribution of the first units across Kenya. With the money raised she also plans to research and develop locally-sourced and recycled materials to decrease costs while increasing the efficiency of the instrument. And once she has distributed the first wave and improved the design, the third phase is to develop kits that allow school children to learn the technology and assemble the devices themselves. Kheterpal emphasizes that on top of resources, education is a necessary ingredient to empower communities to design and build useful tools that they may not have access to otherwise.
We can only hope that SPARK’s musical message will be heard around the world.