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Design Foundations lays the foundations to help the world’s mobile phone charging problems

Posted on 20/08/2019

BuffaloGrid helps improve the connectivity of India through support from Design Foundations

BuffaloGrid is a unique mobile phone power hub using solar energy to power mobile devices in a way that is universally applicable and globally scalable. There are currently 3.4 billion who are currently disconnected.

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At the core of their business is the BuffaloGrid Hub – a hardware platform for providing a power and communications network in areas of the world where infrastructure is poor. Mobile charging power is not always readily available for users and is particularly a massive issue in countries such as India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Kenya and Tanzania.

Previously BuffaloGrid developed a bicycle generator to produce energy.  The market need was there, however the solution wasn’t quite right so BuffaloGrid needed to explore a business model that was scalable and had the impact that they were looking for.  Through the Innovate UK Design Foundations programme, they identified an opportunity to work with an expert partner to undertake focused user research and find new opportunities and new services that BuffaloGrid could deploy.

 

Daniel Becerra, Founder and Innovation Projects Lead, commented on their approach, “Our overall aim was to use a user-centred approach to accelerate innovation within the business and uncover human insights that would transform our business and create new business opportunities”.

They partnered with a London Design agency, Special Projects as they knew of their work and how innovative their approach was to human-centred design and they wanted an agency who would ‘think outside of the box, examine the market from a different perspective and bring a level of expertise and structure to the user centred research.

Special Projects undertook some environmental background research with users in both urban and rural areas in India and ran interactive workshops to get insights into user lifestyles.  This was followed up by expert interviews focusing on defining user behaviour.  This information was collated by Special Projects after which they started rapid prototyping to get ideas.

 

The key outcomes of the user research identified a number of challenges for BuffaloGrid:

  • The end solution needed to work in cities.  Most individuals lost the bulk of their power whilst commuting with no easy power charging sources when they arrived at their destination.
  • There were safety issues connected with having no power (especially in and around New Delhi), people on their own in risk areas, car breakdowns etc.
  • The focus wasn’t just for rural people, it’s also applicable to affluent individuals. Anyone could use the service
  • The design needed to become more aspirational

 

The four key opportunities that were generated as a result of this research and identification of these challenges.

Opportunity 1.  Spread of BuffaloGrid location points.

Special Projects identified a locational map of the places that BuffaloGrid could be installed into including metro stations, bus stops, railway stations and fast food outlets.  Where previously the business thought their service was only suitable to rural and off-grid areas, the research identified a need for the services in rural areas.

Railway stations in particular had a massive density of users in India and individuals are in the locations for a while.  This research has resulted in these being the core base point for BuffaloGrid services in India.  As part of this research, analysis was done on JJ clusters (which encompass the slums in India). There are a high density of low income users (45% of the Indian population density live in these areas), so these became priority areas.

Location of the JJ clusters – ie slums in India  – high density of low income users (45% of density of pop live in these areas

Opportunity 2 was to review the current payment option so users would pay using QR codes via apps.   This has now been fully integrated as a core feature into the BuffaloGrid service.

Opportunity 3 was to create a ‘premium club room experience’.  Individuals would leave their device with a concierge & collect it at a later point.  This was targeted at high income individuals via shopping malls and university campuses.  This option was not pursed.

Opportunity 4 was to create Buffalo Grid  on demand charging services which is currently been implemented on an occasional basis but is not a mainstream service for the business.

 

“Working with Special Projects as part of the Design Foundations programme has completely changed our business model.  We now have a more sustainable approach, providing a service that provides power in areas where power is not available.  We also provide internet connection and services for customers that have connection problems and are working with WhatsApp to provide a solution to make customers aware of fake news feeds in India.

The user research changed our overall thinking about what our customers want and our current service offering and the areas we need to focus to make the business more sustainable.  We have really enjoyed working with Special Projects and are keen to work with them on a follow-on project.  We want to create a universal service in India, Asia and Africa but we currently focused on the Indian market initially before we expand this wider.” Daniel Becerra Founder at BuffaloGrid.

 

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Demonstrate Impact Programme has integrated a human-centred design into its scope and has been recognised in successfully delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Innovate UK will invest up to £9.3 million in innovation projects with impact. The Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) will hold a series of UK-wide briefing events across the UK throughout September.  Register to attend one of these events here.

Find out more about the GCRF programme here.