Impoverished Indian families can look into getting the e-charkha, an electricity-generating version of the ubiquitous yarn-making spinning wheel, as a way to increase productivity without a boost in energy costs. The e-charkha, designed by RS Hiremath, generates juice as the charkha spins and diverts it into a free battery at the bottom of the machine. About two hours of spinning would be enough to run a custom LED light source for six to seven more hours, significantly extending the amount of time families can work. Using LEDs will also help families avoid kerosene lamps, which drastically reduce air quality inside the home when they are used. The Indian government is already giving away several of the e-charkhas to Indian residents under its “Funds for Regeneration of Traditional Industries” program. A good thing, since very few of the people who need it can afford the roughly $200 it costs. [Inhabitat]
$200! for the same amount you could get a 45 w solar panel/battery and cfl light setup from harbor freight, and you would not have to crank the thing.
If you want to make it something that can be made locally in a low tech environment, then make it a generator, wind powered or powered by a solar powered tin can stirling engine rather than something that requires a persons constant attention to function.