The Kimono Lantern: Humanitarian Open Source Hardware

Our friend Akiba (freaklabs) writes:

Things have been crazy here in Tokyo for the past few days. After the Tohoku earthquake, there’s been constant streaming of horrible visual images of the disaster on Japanese news. Along with that, there have been warnings of aftershocks up to a magnitude of 8.0, potential nuclear disasters, rolling blackouts, lack of transportation, and dwindling supplies in local supermarkets and grocery stores. It’s a stressful situation in Tokyo which has over 25M people and life is anything but normal. It’s a chore just to get to work and many feel powerless to do anything but watch the unfolding nuclear situation and hope that it can get contained before a disaster happens. In writing this post, it gives me an excuse to tear myself away from the fear mongering news streams which I’m constantly glued to.

In the hackerspace, we’ll be holding our meeting tonight and will probably start hammering out plans to figure out how and where we can help. There are many things that are needed right now in the quake stricken area. There is no power, internet access is extremely limited, food and clean water are dwindling, and transportation to the area is limited. What we decide on will probably depend on what’s needed and available at the time.

In any case, one immediate thing that can be done is to provide a source of light to people. With no electricity and limited supplies, flashlights and batteries are a luxury. In the hackerspace, we designed the Kimono Lantern as a solar rechargeable lantern to decorate gardens and patios with. However it has a much bigger use right now as the quake victims have no power and many are spending their nights in the dark. Also, parts of Tokyo will be suffering from blackouts until the power grid can get back to normal levels. With a major nuclear generating plant offline, this could take from weeks to months.

So although it’s outside the original sphere of intended use, it looks like the simple Kimono lanterns we designed can play a small role in providing comfort and at least give a small feeling of safety to people that are going through this horrific experience. I’m currently kitting up as many lanterns as I have parts for to bring to the hackerspace tonight. I’m also donating the complete design to the open source hardware community. I’ve updated the files to v1.1 and the package includes the BOM and full gerbers. Its a turnkey package that can be taken and sent directly to the PCB fab. The design has already been proven working. I’m also going to email PCB Cart to see if its possible to share my mask files for the lantern with other accounts. That way, people can just reference the mask files and order PCBs directly without having to pay for the PCB mask charge.

I want to donate this design to the community because I think that it would be more effective than just donating money. It’s a simple design, but its available now and it’s ready to go. Some ways that this design can be used to help the quake survivors are:

  • Kit up the design and sell them in your shop. Some or all of the proceeds can go to the relief effort of your choice. We also need donations at Tokyo Hackerspace for volunteer work and classes.
  • Build a bunch of lanterns and donate them to the quake victims. You can send them to Tokyo Hackerspace and we can make sure they go to relief workers that can distribute them.
  • Donate PCBs or parts to Tokyo Hackerspace. We can have volunteers assemble the designs and have them distributed. The most important parts are the solar cells, NiMH batteries, and the PCBs which are the most expensive.
  • Improve on the design. Saving power, making it more efficient, lowering the cost, tailoring it to specific needs unique to a situation, etc are all welcome.

That is by no means an exhaustive list and there are probably many other ways the design can be used to help out. I’m also hoping that by releasing this design, it can be used for other humanitarian purposes, as well as for people to personally enjoy.


Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !


  1. Is anyone kitting this lantern? My students, here in Haiti, could absolutely use this. I could wrap lessons around the construction steps and each student could construct their own. We could even source the jars locally (every little bit that helps the local economy is good!).

  2. Sounds awesome. Its a bit busy here in Tokyo but if someone wants to kit this up, I can sell PCBs at cost. This would avoid the mask charge. Unfortunately, PCB Cart will not allow you to share masks. I can also help getting the harder to find parts. This would mainly be the boost regulator which is plentiful in Tokyo but has to be ordered directly from Holtek anywhere else. Throw me an email if interested 🙂

    P.S. You can email me through my site at FreakLabs (


  3. This reminds me of the Solar Lanterns made by Evans Wadango to light up rural Kenya (one of CNN’s 2010 Heroes:

    I am not sure about the relative costs here, but if one of them is compartively cheap and efficient, it makes sense to adopt it at the other place too.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.