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Torches as a Leapfrogging Technology
2011-07-15 10:26:23


Most of us have grown up in an environment where power comes from a plug in the wall, and lights are fixtures or lamps that take advantage of that system. But in many parts of the world, this infrastructure doesn’t exist, and so people spend a lot of money on dirty, smelly Kerosene to light their houses at night. Something so simple as a bright, dependable cree LED flashlight can be an excellent leapfrogging technology for people in such places, as it can provide clean, safe light that can be ‘filled up’ with a tiny solar battery charger. And even in western countries, a bright LED torch burning at just a few watts can often fill a room with light, if you are really dedicated to power savings.

But, as LED’s have gone from being bright to really, really bright, a problem has arisen. For most uses, the true power of modern LED’s is . . too much. You can’t read or cook with 300 lumens of light; that much light is really only useful for searching the woods, or for lighting an entire room by pointing the torch up at the ceiling. And if you don’t need all of that light, why waste electrons producing it? LED’s work more efficiently if they are under-driven anyway.

Many hobbyists and manufacturers have risen to this challenge by producing complex, and in many cases highly refined, torches that use resistors, or pulse width modulation via a tiny computer chip, to cut the light level and save power. However, such systems have far more parts and much higher complexity than lights which are simply regulated, which adds to the cost of the torch and increases the risk of failure. Also, such circuits always have some overhead that cuts into the efficiency of the bicycle light.

Now, an American company has a new solution to the brightness problem, one that cuts the complexity, increases the efficiency, and does it all with a simple and cheap material.

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