What do you get by combining a spinning wheel with electricity? An energy and economic resource poised to transform rural India, of course.

Bangalore-based engineer R.S. Hiremath’s “e-charkha” starts with the the charkha, a hand-cranked tabletop wheel that spins yarn from raw cotton and other fibers, and was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol for Indian independence. He then updates it and equips its base with a generator that stores spinning energy in a lead-acid battery, which can then power an LED light or small transistor radio. Two hours of spinning creates enough energy to provide at least 7.5 hours of electricity, a boon for rural India’s developing villages.

Hiremath’s idea for the invention came as a child, while playing with both his grandfather’s charkha and a bicycle equipped with a hub-dynamo, or an electrical generator that powers an attached light.

“This interested me to see how the charkha and dynamo could be joined together to produce electricity,” he says. “It took almost 35 years for me to figure out all the parts to suit rural India.”

With a patent that includes magnets, winding wire, driver circuits, gears, and mechanical components, the e-charkha brings new possibilities to India’s masses. Spinners can now work longer hours generating a commodity — yarn — while keeping current on agricultural news and weather, or listening to music. They can also read books without resorting to toxic kerosene lanterns.

Growing up in India’s small towns and villages, Hiremath learned what it’s like to live in pitch darkness. After completing a mechanical engineering degree in Karnataka, India, he started M/S Flexitron, an organization focused on developing low-cost appropriate technologies for rural India. The e-charkha is one of more than 270 such products.

Since late 2007, thousands of e-charkhas have been distributed for free in rural India’s most remote areas through a government-sponsored program, with a target goal of 300,000 to 1.2 million over the next three to five years.

Flexitron Company: flexitron.fuzing.com