Kinkajou® Microfilm Projector
One in five adults worldwide does not know how to read. In rural regions of West Africa, up to 75% of the population is illiterate. Literacy provides a solid foundation for poverty reduction and improves lives in very practical ways: enabling mothers to read expiration dates on medicine bottles; assisting farmers with reading application instructions on chemical packaging; and increasing the likelihood that women participate in the political process.
According to Barbara Garner of World Education, “It’s the lack of resources”—specifically access to books and lighting—rather than a lack of interest in education that contributes to illiteracy rates. Since most adults work during the day, the majority of World Education’s students in Mali take classes at night. Residents of these rural communities lack access to electricity and, therefore, electric lighting. Before the implementation of the Kinkajou, each student in a two-hour class had maybe fifteen minutes to learn—the amount of time the classroom’s single kerosene lantern was close to their desk.
The results of an independent, two-year pedagogical impact study, completed in Mali with World Education this summer, shows that performance in Kinkajou nighttime classes far exceeds that of non-Kinkajou nighttime classes, and even exceeds the performance of World Education’s daytime adult literacy classes. A sample of students was given literacy tests before and after the semester-length literacy courses. There were 2.613 students in the Kinkajou sample group, 304 in the night-time control group, and 2,275 in the daytime control group.
According to literacy teacher (“karamogo”) Martine Sogoba in Digani, Mali: “It is better, because without [the Kinkajou], when the teacher is writing on the board, students wait in the dark in vain, and they do nothing. We lose much time and the quality of handwriting is not good.” The Kinkajou is also increasing interaction time between World Education instructors and their students. Karamogo Moulaye Yatara in Ngoye says, “[The Kinkajou] is wonderful. The teacher won’t spend time and energy searching images, or walking between tables to show them. We will gain a lot of time.”
DtM provided our client with more than a better service—our product has created an opportunity for World Education to transform the way it provides adult education. The system provides new opportunities for learning. For example, the projected text serves as a replacement to the instructor’s often poor handwriting, allowing students to trace directly over the projected images on the chalkboard. It also provides new opportunities for content delivery: while World Education was limited in the books it could provide each student, by using the microfilm projector, they are now free to include whole reference libraries.
The Device: Kinkajou Microfilm Projector
The Kinkajou Microfilm Projection System is a low-cost teaching tool designed to improve and expand access to education by transforming night-time learning environments in rural, non-electrified settings. The projector represents an innovative combination of cutting-edge hardware, "abandoned" technology and the creative re-purposing of existing products.
The Kinkajou light source is a five-watt white LED, a rugged, high-efficiency alternative to the fragile, expensive incandescent bulbs used in most commercial projectors. The LED is rated to last 100,000 hours, or the equivalent of eleven years of continuous operation. As an alternative to expensive glass lenses, the Kinkajou optics assembly cleverly incorporates seven plastic lenses adapted from existing "View-Master" toys. The resulting projection system can cast an image up to three meters wide from microfilm onto practically any flat surface--big enough for an entire classroom to read.
By combining microfilm with LEDs, DtM has found a novel application for what was considered an obsolete technology. Microfilm is durable and cheap. A microfilm reel of 10,000 pages--enough to accommodate an entire reference library--costs just US$6. Local language curriculum and accompanying images can easily and inexpensively be published to the microfilm spools.
The design is optimized for its intended market of rural communities in developing countries, with simple user cues and a rugged, dust-proof housing. The design requires no tools more complicated than pocket change for maintenance, and includes a battery, charge controller and solar panel for off-grid use. At volumes of 10,000 units, the entire projection system costs US$150.
The Kinkajou Design History
The educational benefits of the Kinkajou Projector are not limited to the poor communities in developing countries. Through Design that Matters' collaborative design process, over 180 volunteer students and professional from around the world have contributed to the development of the Kinkajou over the last two years, including students and professionals from top universities and companies-for many their first exposure to problems faced daily by people in underserved communities. DtM volunteers are embracing their role as citizens of the world, and many have realigned their life trajectories to include work in the social sector.
The following is a brief design history of the Kinkajou:
2000: The Kinkajou Projector starts life as a series of design concepts for a "wind-up browser", created by Lemelson-MIT Student Prize-winner Saul Griffith as part of a Media Lab design course.
2002: A student team in the second DtM seminar at MIT develops the first functional proof-of-concept of a microfilm projector using LEDs. That fall, a student team picks up the design challenge for MIT senior mechanical engineering capstone design course 2.009 "Product Engineering Processes", taught by Woodie Flowers and in part sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation. Working with DtM, they develop World Education as a specific product client, and develop the alpha, or first generation, prototype.
Awards and Recognition
- Tech Museum Award Laureate 2005
- €100K Index:Award, Top Nominee 2005
- 2004 Design News Awards, $20K ANSYS College Design Engineering Award
- 2003 MIT IDEAS Competition, $5K International Technology Award
- $100k Saatchi Award, 2002 Finalist
- Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, "Design for the Other 90%," New York, 2007
- Metro State Center for Visual Art, "Substance: Diverse Practices from the Periphery" Exhibit, Denver, 2007
- Museum of Science, "Current Science and Technology," Cambridge, 2003
For a detailed design history of the Kinkajou, please see the Kinkajou Design Journal.
For an account of a 2003 field test of the Kinkajou beta prototype, conducted over six weeks in Mali and Benin in West Africa, please see the DtM Field Journal.
Firefly Wins Top Award at 2013 Edison Awards
Firefly Phototherapy was voted a Gold winner for social impact at the April 25th event at Navy Pier in Chicago
Solidworks Profiles Firefly Phototherapy
Solidworks has been a fantastic DtM supporter for years. As part of their "Born to Design" series, the company recently created a video feature about DtM's Project Firefly.