Central Saint Martins graduate Luke Talbot has developed a portable charger called MyPowerbank that can be attached to rental bikes to provide free phone charging for people experiencing homelessness. The device was showcased as part of the Design Transforms exhibition at CSM during the London Design Festival. MyPowerbank is designed to fit onto the chain of any Santander bicycle, the rentable bikes provided by Transport for London, which can be found at one of the 800 docking stations across the city.
Talbot’s invention takes advantage of the fact that the chains of these bikes will still move when pedalled backwards, even without payment. This movement powers a small pedal-powered generator in the portable charger, which stores the generated electricity in its internal batteries. Approximately 25 minutes of pedalling can fully charge a phone.
In conducting interviews with homeless individuals across London, Talbot found that while most of them own a phone, they struggle to find places to charge their devices. This limits their access to important digital services such as banking, texting, and applying for benefits.
Talbot’s project was inspired by his research into how urban infrastructure, often designed to make life difficult for homeless people, could be repurposed for their benefit. He was particularly influenced by the inflatable homeless shelters created by American artist Michael Rakowitz, which use hot air vents to inflate.
The MyPowerbank device operates using a built-in dynamo, similar to those used for bike lights, to convert kinetic energy from pedalling into electrical energy. A small gear on the back of the device attaches to the bike’s chain, while an internal magnet clips onto the metal frame.
Talbot’s prototype features a 3D-printed shell in the same navy blue color as the Santander bike frames, in order to blend in. The instructions are printed with UV ink for visibility at night.
Having received recognition and funding from the MullenLowe NOVA Awards, Talbot plans to use the prize money to refine the design and reduce the pedalling time needed for a full charge. By manufacturing the powerbanks in collaboration with a charity or NGO, he believes they can be produced for as little as £3 ($3.90) and distributed through homeless shelters.
Talbot hopes to establish a circular repair system, where broken devices can be returned to the shelters and sent back to the manufacturer. This would ensure ongoing support for those who need it most.
The MyPowerbank was on display at the Design Transforms exhibition, held at CSM’s Lethaby Gallery until 15 October, as part of the London Design Festival. The festival showcased various exhibitions, installations, and talks.
Other notable projects at this year’s London Design Festival included a giant game of Oware using a traditional West African bench, a handbag made from bacterial leather, and a furniture collection crafted from a single car.
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