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Fiber light

Rio de Janeiro company develops new street lighting system

zipluxZiplux: lighting directed at the sidewalk and the street: easy maintenanceziplux

Considered one of the biggest of its kind in the world, the São Paulo city street light system has more than 530 thousand lamps. The city council employs 90 maintenance teams on the network, whose maintenance entails changing approximately 300 light bulbs and 18 photo cells every day; photo cells automatically switch on the lamps when there is no sun. Each such operation entails taking a truck with a crane to the lamppost; the crane’s mechanical arms raise the maintenance technician so that he can replace the burnt-out bulb or the defective photo cell. This operation is expensive, slow, hazardous and non-ergonomic, because the maintenance man works constantly with his arms raised above his shoulders. However, this may change in a few years, thanks to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the owners of Ziplux, a company from Rio de Janeiro based at the company incubator of the Alberto Luiz Coimbra Postgraduate Studies and Research Institute at the College of Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Coppe/UFRJ). They created a lighting totem, also called Ziplux, which promises to cut maintenance time and save power.

The innovation of this patented equipment is that it does not rely on lamps or optical sets at the top of the lamppost to produce light. The light source is a reflecting lamp that comes with an optic fiber cable. This is placed inside the lamppost base, about 1.50 meters above the ground. From there, the light is conducted to the top of the steel totem, more than four meters above, by means of fiber optic cables without any kind of lamp. The principle is the same as that of a hose: instead of water, light is being channeled. The fibers are subdivided and positioned at the top so that only a little luminosity is lost. “There is no dispersion of light with the Ziplux. Thanks to a better distribution of luminosity, the gain on a street can range from 10% to 15%. This means that fewer lampposts will be necessary to light a street, which results in significant savings for the system,” explains designer Walen Nogueira Cruz Júnior, director of Ziplux and one of the product’s creators.

The savings will also be the result of fewer light bulbs per lamppost, as some of these require two bulbs to light a sidewalk and a street, whereas Ziplux can direct the focus of light to two points, the sidewalk and the street. The equipment was designed to light parks, gardens, public meeting areas, shopping mall patios, environmental preservation areas and quiet streets – the law requires that busy streets and avenues be equipped with lampposts higher than 6 meters and the Ziplux only come in heights of 4, 5 or 6 meters .

Besides providing good lighting, Ziplux 1500, the first model marketed by the company, will make maintenance easier, because of the positioning of its electric system, which is closer to the ground. Instead of a truck with a crane and three employees (the driver, the crane operator and the electrician), the light bulbs can be replaced by a single maintenance man on a motorcycle. “With Ziplux, the repair takes 15 minutes, versus the hour and a half currently needed for this work, according to data available on the maintenance of lampposts on the Rio-Niterói bridge. We estimate that maintenance costs will drop by some 50% with our system,” says Walen. To avoid vandalism and theft of the components, the compartment that shelters the emission source and the photo cell is sealed with a special screw that can only be opened with special screw drivers. A model with an optional, more sophisticated locking device is equipped with a biometric system that can only be unlocked through the identification of the operator’s finger print.

Innovative totem
Confidence in the innovation’s success – the product was one of the runners-up of the IF Product Design Awards 2008, an international award that is considered the Academy Award of design. Ziplux hopes to sell 12,500 units of the 1500 model by the end of this year. “Several firms have shown interest in purchasing the product,” says the company’s director. Each totem costs about R$ 12 thousand, three times more than conventional lampposts. The entrepreneurs guarantee that this price difference can be offset relatively quickly. “Given its technical and operating advantages, after five years the Ziplux will have cost 50% of the price of a conventional lamppost,” says Wagner Ferreira, the sales manager at Ziplux, a company comprised of Zidesign, specialized in design, and Eneltec, which develops electronic design; both were started at Coppe/UFRJ. “Zidesign is in charge of the product’s concept and final design, while the people from Eneltec are responsible for developing the electric components,” Ferreira explains.

In addition to the Ziplux 1500, the company has also developed a second model. The main difference is that this one uses sunlight to generate light. Called Ziplux 1500s, the equipment, according to the entrepreneurs, is the only product in the market based on the concept of independent remote lighting, which means that it does not rely on the city’s power grid. However, it is more expensive than the conventional model because of the high cost of its photo voltaic plates. To bypass this problem, the Ziplux designers and engineers are working on a new system that uses LEDs (light emitting diodes) as the light emission sources, rather than conventional bulbs. This new system is in its final development stage and should be ready in the second half of 2008.

Like most technological innovations, the idea was sparked by chance. In the late nineties, Walen was stuck in a massive traffic jam on the Perimetral elevated highway in downtown Rio de Janeiro, because of a truck that was replacing a light bulb on a lamppost. This gave him the idea of creating a lamppost requiring simpler, faster maintenance. A project was submitted by Walen Junior as his graduation paper for his industrial design degree in 1998. Ever since, the idea and the prototype evolved, until 2005, when the duo managed to get a business plan approved by the UFRJ incubator. So far, the investment has amounted to R$ 1.5 million, which came out of the pockets of these entrepreneurs.