Offbeat & Off the Grid: 15 Surprisingly Mobile Solar Gadgets
By Steph, Web Urbanist, 11 August 2014.
By Steph, Web Urbanist, 11 August 2014.
Solar power projects go truly off-the-grid in mobile applications that range from practical if goofy solar panel-equipped Ray Bans to donkeys that stroll around with photovoltaics mounted to their backs. While some are just for fun, others have the (solar) power to bring electricity to remote places, or get around restrictions that hold back renewable energy progress.
1. Shrub Rover Solar-Powered Camouflaged Car
It looks like an ordinary shrub. Then it starts inexplicably rolling along the ground as if it has gained sentience a la the plot of a particularly terrible horror movie from the 1950s.
The Terrestrial Shrub Rover by Justin Shull is a solar-powered, foliage-covered vehicle that lets drivers explore new territories in disguise (as long as you wait to actually drive it until after dark). Cameras on the outside display the car’s surroundings on screens within so you can see where you’re going.
2. Pop-Up Solar Power Station
Solar installations can be costly and time-consuming to install, but load them into a shipping container so that they can pop right out when it’s opened and you’ve got a convenient mobile solar power station. The Ecos PowerCube is available in 10-foot, 20-foot and 40-foot ISO shipping container footprints with solar panels hidden within protective drawers.
Batteries inside the container store power. Once unrolled, the panels increase the size of the array to three times the footprint of the shipping containers.
3. Solar-Powered Wheelchair
The winning entry in a competition for inventions that can make a significant difference to people with disabilities, this solar-powered wheelchair can run continuously on the power of the sun. Designed by students at the University of Virginia, the wheelchair features a custom-built 11-square-foot solar panel that doubles as a sun shade and enables the wheelchair to travel indefinitely at 1mph without drawing power from the battery.
4. Autonomous Solar-Powered Lawnmower
The equivalent of a Roomba for your lawn, this open-source robotic lawn mower runs entirely on solar power so you don’t have to sweat it out on a hot summer day. No need to even control it via remote, since it’s totally autonomous.
If you’re handy with electronics, you can try making one yourself - instructions are available at Open Electronics.
5. Freshwater Floating Solar Power Plant
The world’s largest freshwater solar power plant will be installed over reservoirs and lakes in India’s southern state of Kerala in a US$72 million, 50 megawatt project. Using freshwater gets around the problem of landowners overcharging for solar developments, with projects paying rent to the owners of the bodies of water. The total cost will end up being around 15 percent lower than equivalent land-based projects.
6. Solar Panels Carried by Donkeys in Turkey
Even the most remote locations where vehicles are rarely seen can have access to solar power when people get really creative – as they have in this totally unexpected project utilizing donkeys in Turkey.
As the donkeys wander around during the day, solar panels mounted on their backs soak up energy, enabling local nomads to charge cell phones, laptops and lights.
7. Scooterdillo Solar-Powered Electric Scooter
Resembling a roly-poly bug when the panels are all closed up, the SunRed conceptual scooter is an ‘armoured’ moped with a retractable shell. The panels gather energy when the scooter is parked, offering enough juice to give it a top speed of 30 miles per hour and 12 miles per charge.
8. DIY Solar Powered Car
Not all solar-powered transportation projects have to be high-tech and high-concept. This one, by Nigerian student Segun Oyeyiola retrofits a classic Volkswagen Beetle to run on solar and wind power for a total cost of just US$6,000. Relying mostly on donated and salvaged materials, the solar-powered car has a reinforced suspension to support the weight of the massive solar panel mounted to its roof. It takes about five hours in the sun to charge the car’s battery.
9. iPhone-Charging Solar Ray Bans
If you’re going to be in the sun all day, without access to power outlets, you might as well gather enough energy to keep your cell phone charged. And while you could do that with any number of portable solar panels, none of them are quite as quirky as this pair of sunglasses.
Panels are built right into the arms of the Ray Ban-inspired design. When the sun goes down, just take the side off the glasses and plug it right into your iPhone 5.
10. Solar-Powered Tent for Aid Workers
The V Plus disaster relief tent features built-in solar cells, a battery and LED lights to shelter aid workers responding to natural disasters. It’s also a cool idea for camping in general. Multiple units can be connected to accommodate larger groups.
11. Phone Charger for Developing Nations
Barely larger than a lunch box, this little device is a solar-charging hub that can provide up to 40 cell phone charges per day in areas where electricity is hard to come by. BuffaloGrid’s charger, which costs about US$425 to manufacture, is provided for free to entrepreneurs in the community, who travel around offering it up to locals. Customers pay for the service via a text to the company, and the operators receive a portion of that revenue.
12. SunCutter Off-Grid Laser Cutter & 3D Printer
Sand and the sun may not seem like adequate materials to produce much of anything, but industrial designer Markus Kayser puts them both to work with a genius 3D printer.
Powered by the sun, the printer turns the sand into glass, producing all sorts of objects. And since it’s using plentiful and natural sand rather than plastic, the possibilities are literally endless. A second project, the Sun Cutter, uses concentrated sunlight to make precision laser cuts.
13.Solar Bike Helmet Charges Phones
Developed in just three days at India’s Nirma University, this project simply mounts some solar panels onto a bike helmet to harness enough energy while riding around to power up a phone. It takes just 40 minutes of riding to gather up enough power, and the design could be replicated for as little as US$22.
14. Solar-Powered Cockroach
It may just be a toy (available for a mere US$2.50 on Amazon), but the solar-powered cockroach is an interesting example of solar energy being integrated into toys or taken on the go in totally unexpected ways.
Sized to fit in the palm of your hand, it could definitely catch people off-guard when placed in the sun near an unsuspecting crowd.
15. Solar Bikini
While it’s not exactly suitable for swimming, the solar-powered bikini by Andrew Schneider can definitely make a day of sunbathing a little more productive by keeping your phone or mp3 player juiced up. It’s made up of thin, flexible photovoltaic film strips for comfort and costs about US$200.
[Source: Web Urbanist. Edited. Some links added.]