18 April 2013

'Lion Lights': A bright solution with LEDs

Sometimes innovative technologies come from the wildest places.

Such was the case for Richard Turere, a teen-age Maasai boy from Kitengela, Kenya, who only wanted to protect his family's herd of cattle, goats and sheep from the lions who roamed the savannah near the border of the Nairobi National Park.

At the age of nine, Turere was given the responsibility of  looking after the family cattle. After two years of losing too many of the livestock to lions while the family was sleeping, and with little access to technical information, he found a photonics-based method to keep the predators at bay.

Turere explained at a recent TED conference how he had noticed that the lions were unafraid of the fires he built to keep them away. They learned to skirt around them and remain in the shadows, still able to hunt vulnerable animals.

However, the lions were afraid of moving lights. They wouldn’t come near the Turere family stockade if someone walked around with a flashlight at night. After a few weeks of contemplation and experimentation, he came up with a simple and low-cost system to protect his family's source of meat and milk.

Turere, 11 at the time, put together an automated lighting system with LED bulbs from broken flashlights and a car battery powered by a solar panel. His system of “Lion Lights” is designed to flash light intermittently into the dark night, tricking lions into thinking someone is walking around with a flashlight.

His solution has been so successful, according to SPIE Professional magazine, that several neighboring families have asked for Lion Lights. So far, 75 such systems have been installed around Kenya.

In addition, Turere's Lion Lights provided a solution that benefits the animals that inhabit Nairobi National Park, which has the world's largest density of lions, and the tourist economy built around the wildlife of Africa.

It's an inspiring story and a true example of photonics for a better world. (Watch Richard's TED talk to hear him tell the story.)

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