Uganda's bicycle-powered USB charger

With less than 5 percent of Uganda's population being able access to electricity, a unique idea from an engineering student is paving the way to open more access for others in Uganda.

Uganda's bicycle-powered USB charger

World Bulletin / News Desk

On Nov. 23, 2013, Elliot Mwebaze Abangira was in a village over 400 kilometers from capital Kampala to attend a family function.

The 25-year-old engineering student received a phone call from a colleague telling him about an upcoming school exam.

Abangira wanted to call a class representative to inform the lecturer that he would not be able to take the test.

"I wanted to see if we could figure out a way for me to take the test on my return, but my phone blacked out," he told Anadolu Agency.

With the next trading center some three miles away, Abangira was left without any power.

"I was puzzled and confused," lamented Abangira, who eventually retook the test and graduated one year later. "I just had to sit back and let fate take its course."

Months afterwards, he was watching a motivational speaker on television who was saying something about how "boxes" were doing magic in China.

"As a telecom engineer, I was always studying about chargers, and the idea came off pretty well," he recalled.

So he turned to his old bicycle, which he had been keeping in the store.

"I had a dynamo on my bike and I thought: this thing produces power," Abangira recalled.

"A dynamo can convert kinetic energy into electrical energy; I had to convert it to energy that is suitable for mobile phones," said the young engineer.

"I knew I needed diodes, rectifiers and capacitors to store the charger longer and multiply or boost the charger in case the bicycle was running at a low speed. [I also needed] a heat sink for when it its running at higher speeds," he told Anadolu Agency.

All these component parts, however, did not fall perfectly into place.

"Each time I bought a component, I would fit it in and realize it didn't work," he said. "But I endured to see it through to the end."

How it works

Persistently researching and collecting information, it took Abangira nine months to bring his idea to life.

Outside on the verandah, there is a bicycle placed upside down, over which he kneels and connects wires.

With a small white cable, the ends of which have been stripped, Abangira connects one end to the dynamo and the other to a metal piece on the bicycle.

The other end of the wire is then connected to the prototype charger, which is covered with paper and held together by tape.

Inside, there are both metal and plastic socket covers, a switch, resisters, regulators, heat sinks and capacitors – along with items taken from boosters and torches.

With a USB cable connected to the charger on one end and the phone on the other, Abangira starts peddling the bicycle with his hands.

The phone, meanwhile, starts charging – just as it would if it was connected to hydro-power.

"I know this prototype charger looks too big, so I'm hoping I can make it smaller so it is connected on the bicycle handles with this flashlight provision," he told Anadolu Agency.

"When one rides at night, they can use this flashlight [which is] controlled by a switch that can either be dimmed or put on full light," he added.

Abangira said his innovation would allow elderly farmers taking their produce to a nearby market to charge their phones on the way.

"If they return at night, they can use the flashlight and – instead of buying candles and kerosene – get home with a charged battery that can power the flashlight for almost six hours," he asserted.


Abangira's work is not easy, with resistance coming from unlikely sources.

"My mom would ask me, 'Elliot, what is this you are building that doesn't end?'" he recalled.

His mother, Peninah, said he used to spend his time making funny shapes by joining wires.

"I would quarrel with him to stop doing useless things," she told Anadolu Agency. "He would tell me, 'Mummy, we are poor, this is money' – but I never took him seriously."

One day, she recalls, Abangira called her from the kitchen, telling her to bring her phone.

"He connected my phone to his wires and started peddling and – suddenly – my phone was charging," Peninah said, smiling.

"He said, 'You see? This is the thing you were talking about when you said I am doing nothing'," she added.

The following morning, Abangira told his mother that he had registered his invention with an annual competition organized by the Uganda Communications Commission.

"I hugged him, I was so happy," the proud mother told Anadolu Agency.

On May 18, Elliot told his mother that he had been invited to the People's Choice Awards for best innovation to help upcountry residents.

On May 22, Abangira was declared first runner-up at the People's Choice Awards for "most outstanding innovation that can help locals upcountry" – for which he won a $500 award.

"So I told myself, this is the future my son was talking about. I think there is a bright future – we can see it now," said the young inventor's mother.

Future power

Robby Muhumuza, an independent judge contracted by the Uganda Communications Commission, believes Abangira's invention will make a difference.

"As judges, we thought his innovation was brilliant and popular, considering that many Ugandans in rural areas have phones but not electricity," he told Anadolu Agency.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development's 2013/2022 rural electrification strategy, only some 5 percent of Uganda's population currently enjoys access to electricity.

The government hopes this percentage can be raised to 22 percent by 2022.

The associated capital expenditure requirement to achieve these results, however, is estimated at a whopping $920 million.

"Usually, they [rural Ugandans] have to walk or ride to the nearest trading center, which could be 5 to 10 kilometers away, or go to a rich neighbor who has solar power for which they must pay for charging," noted Muhumuza.

But as bicycles are relatively common in Uganda's rural communities, Abangira's innovation could make a difference for many in the Ugandan countryside.

"Almost every family has a bicycle, so I think his [Abangira's] idea is relevant and cost effective; it will be highly embraced by the community," said the judge.

He stressed the importance of the invention's two main components: the dynamo for charging phones and the LED flashlight, which, he explained, could also be used by children from poor families who couldn't othwerwise afford electricity.

"It's a winning combination," Muhumuza told Anadolu Agency.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Mayıs 2015, 13:36