I’ve just done an interview with the HomeofSolarEnergy website which I guess will be posted soon. The best thing about it was that it got me unpacking my solar panel and thinking about a simple solar powered computing solution again.
Update: The Interview on Home Of Solar Energy is available here.
I mentioned the Viliv S10 in an article about solar-powered computers for 2010 and it turns out that it has the same 9.5v input as the Viliv X70 tablet. Having an input voltage below 12V is always an advantage and it’s even better when the X70 car adaptor works on the S10. I threw out the panel, connected it to the car adaptor and S10 and we’re away. I now have a 3G-capable, Windows 7 convertible netbook running directly from the sun.
In my last post I wrote about the Viliv S10, a super-efficient Windows-based PC that would serve well for solar-powered work duties. Last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona I tested out another interesting bit of kit. This one looks much the same but in terms of internals, it’s like chalk and cheese compared to the S10.
The Compaq AirLife 100 is basically a smartphone cased in a netbook housing with a 10″ touchscreen and an estimated 30wh battery. The operating system is Android which has a great browser (although not as good or fast as Firefox or Chrome would be on the S10) and the ability to run many Android applications. The build quality is good, the keyboard is good and with 3G and Wifi built-in, connectivity is also good but the fantastic thing about this one is that it can idle with the screen off for DAYS instead of hours. In theory (untested) this little baby could run, connected to GPRS data providing 30-second GPS (built-in) location updates and polling email or similar services for about 3 days on a single charge. To top it off, it’s even more efficient than the S10 when running at full steam AND it weighs about 25% LESS!
With a 16GB SSD topping off the specs you’ve got a great lightweight, semi-rugged possibility.
This isn’t going to be the fastest productivty device you’ve ever used but if efficiency is more important than processing speed, the Airlife 100 will take some beating.
The Airlife 100 is due in the Spring and i’m quite excited to test it out longer term.
Check out my hands-on with the device at MWC last week:
I just wanted to give you solar computing fans a quick heads-up on a new solution that you should consider. The Viliv X70 EX.
I’ve been testing it for the last week and as a standalone UMPC its a really flexible solution. SSD and 3G options, high quality build and very long battery life. In tests, I’ve been getting 5-6hrs battery life and seeing great productivity levels using either the on-screen keyboard or a USB keyboard and mouse. The best thing is that the car-kit includes an adaptor plug for 12v => 9.5 but the input voltage can rise to 24v making it perfect for attaching direct to a 24w or even 12W solar panel. One issue however is the gloss finish on the screen. Viliv are producing a filter though so this should help a lot. I will get one and test it soon.
Initial plug-in test worked but I need to work-out the minimum sun power level needed and the full-sun charging time.
Stay tuned for more test results. In the meantime, check out my full review at UMPCPortal.
Producing a maximum 300mw in a 27cm square, 0.8mm thick, this lightweight panel just announced by Sharp looks interesting and gives an indication of where we are in small consumer-focused solar panels.
This newly developed solar module makes effective use of compact semiconductor packaging technology to achieve a thickness of just 0.8 mm, the thinnest level in the industry. The solar cells that make up the module are based on polycrystalline silicon and deliver a maximum power of 300 mW*1 , and as an auxiliary power source for mobile devices, will contribute to saving energy. In addition, the electrode pattern on the cell surface can be formed to meet the requirements of device manufacturers, leading to increased design flexibility for mobile devices.
We’re still at a very poor level of efficieny though. 11% efficiency by my reconing. It’s no wonder they didn’t put that statistic in the press release!
300mw is enough to keep a very basic mobile phone topped up while in standby.
Does this mean goodbye to my solar panel, my 1KG lead-acid battery and the box full of cables I have? Does these mean that you won’t have to spend over $1000 on a Solar UMPC kit now?
iUnika have announced a range of very low end, low-cost netbooks which include one with a solar-panel on the back. The price: $260.
It’s eco friendly too “..the system body’s is made from bioplastics and other biodegradable materials derived from starch and cellulose” [source]
Here’s my take. Using a PC in the sun is hard work on the eyes and hard work on the battery as you need to pump up the backlight. The solar panel is also very small (I estimate 4W max output) so with a device that’s likely to be in the 3-4W operating power range, it’s at best, a trickle charger that can keep the device topped up when not in use. Putting panels on PC’s does a nice job of cutting out the losses you get when charging external power banks but they need to be detachable to get the best use out of them.
Still, bravo to iUnika for doing this. There are definitely some customers that would benefit from this. Education in hot countries with poor infrastructure comes immediately to mind.
I checked this one out at CeBIT 2009 earlier this month and it looked very interesting. Tidy design too.
The problem is, as with many of these consumer devices, they dont even list the capacity of the cells which indicates that this one is more for the MP3 brigade rather than for UMPCs or MIDs. Shame.
Update: More pics including a shot of the specs, at Marcel Nuernberger’s Flickr page.
Kevin Tofel, an eco-friendly blogger at the excellent mobile-focused website JKOnTheRun has bought himself a solar-powered battery-pack and plans to run his iPhone for as long as he can without connecting it to the mains power.
The charger is a Solio Classic with a 6wh capacity cell. The iPhone has a 5wh cell.
At first glance it seems like too much of a challenge. Looking at the solar cell area and comparing it to my own 25W panel which measures about 1m squared tells me that this device is going to have a tiny sun-capture capability. Looking at the FAQ on the device gives a few clues:
It takes 8-10 hours to fully charge a Solio from the sun. With peak charging times between 10am and 2pm, it takes a minimum of 2 days to fully charge a Solio.
8-10 hours for a 6Wh battery is under 1W of solar capture, under ideal conditions.
It’s winter in Philadelphia right now so I guess we’re looking at an average 60% sun-power through the peak hours which means it will take about 3 average days to charge the solar unit. Taking into account that about 20% power will be lost on cross-charging I’d estimate that Kevin is going to struggle to get a full charge every three days.
2.5G Smartphones like the first-gen iPhone that Kevin has, can easily take 2W of power when driven hard. So if Kevin isn’t careful. he’s going to be out of power in the first day but it looks like he’s done his research and is well on top of the challenge…
The strategies…let me go two days without charging my iPhone however, and that gives me two days to capture sunlight with the Solio. I guess if we have a three-day rainstorm, I’m out of luck.
The interesting part of the experiment will be to see what type of usage Kevin gets out of the device. Will it be voice only? Will he be able to use regular email polling as he’s planning. Will he use it as a mobile internet device or just as a voice phone?
It’s clear that this isn’t the best way to save energy given that the $75 Euro initial costs that could power an iPhone non-stop for about 40 years (*1) but these sort of experiments, this sort of publicity and the resulting discussion is exactly what’s needed to stimulate development and improvement of consumer solar solutions.
I don’t get many readers on this blog but from the responses I’ve had over the last year or so I know that many of the readers here will have already thought about this. Perhaps you’ve already done it? If so, what devices did you use and how did it / does it work out for you?
Track Kevin’s progress at JKOnTheRun.
(*1) Assuming the iPone takes a (very high) average drain of 1W, $75 would buy something in the order of 500kwh of household power. With an AC adaptor efficiency of 80%, the $75 over 45 years of iPhone usage.
When I did the Solar UMPC tour in 2007, it was an expensive job pulling together all the equipment. Foldable solar panels and ultra mobile computers were specialist items and difficult to find. The UMPC alone cost over 1100 Euro and had to be ordered through a specialist. Fortunately, Intel are starting to deliver on their promise of consumer-focused, highly efficient Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs)and it’s looking great for anyone wanting to power a real PC from the sun.
What was 1KG and cost 1110 Euro one year ago is now less than half the weight, takes half the power and cost a lot lot less. Within 12 months, the price will be down to 50% of what it was a year ago bringing mobile computing to the masses. Take the Aigo MID (see info below) It’s a full Linux-based PC with keyboard and screen, storage, usb, a camera, wifi, bluetooth and will even be available soon with built-in 3G. Its just 350gm in weight and having looked in detail at test results and asked owners about the battery life, its clear that it’s running in less than 4W of power meaning you can last twice as long on the same amount of stored power or reduce the size of the (expensive) solar panel and power storage. A huge step forward.
Recently, I have been thinking more about short-term emergency supplies. I usually keep a stock of foodstuffs and water in my cellar along with a radio, small gas stove and a radio but I really think a mobile computer should be part of my survival kit, even if it’s just for day-to-day ‘emergencies.’ From being able to compute when your ISP has problems to being able to walk into the middle of a city without power or communications and instantly set up a WiFi hotsopt or Bluetooth hotspot with a simple, self-contained web-server offering emergency information. From being able to move away from an emergency area with your computer with scans of your important documents to being able to send an e-mail greeting to your mother when you forgot to send a card for her birthday (arguably one of the worst disaster scenarios possible!)
In times of disaster, you need to earn money too. As a pro-blogger (UMPCPortal) I would instantly lose 100% of my income if the Internet went down but by having an emergency Internet ‘station’ I’d have a lot of possibilities. Can you imagine how much bartering power you would have if your were one of the only people left in your area with a working PC and a 3G connection that could send and receive emergency SMS messages from the cellular radio system!
In times of comfort and stability it sounds almost extreme to be thinking about such scenarios but in the western world, we live in a just-in-time economy. Like the weather, everything could change in 48hrs. Considering your electronic storage, communications and computing as part of your survival kit is is something many people will be doing and having the lightest and most efficient kit is obviously the best way to go. Thank goodness for Mobile Internet Devices!
Solar UMPC Tip of the moment: (click on the links for information from the UMPCPortal database)
Aigo P8860 - One of the first consumer-focused Mobile Internet Devices based on Intel’s Atom processor and Moblin, Linux-based operating system. Currently available by import. Average power drain (in-use) under 4W. 5V DC input. Micro-SD port. Wifi, Bluetooth and USB port about to take external peripherals. Also available in France as the Mi PC through the carrier SFR and expected to be launched under the Gigabyte brand soon as the M528.
Is anyone reading this considering a mobile PC as an essential item in their emergency kit? Is anyone even considering some form of fallback scenario?
It looks like this test is over now. The TabletKiosk MP3400 blew up on me.
This morning, everything was going well. The MP3400 was charging well from the Sunlinq…
…but later in the day, when I was charging the Q1 Ultra from the MP3400, it all went wrong. The MP3400 overheated in a big way…
I had left the Q1 Ultra connected to the MP3400 in the boot/trunk of the car while I went out to pick up some beer and when I came back the unit was incredibly hot. When I took it out of it’s case, it was clear that it had overheated as the plastic on the inside of the case had melted onto the battery. Part of the grille had melted too.
I left it to cool for 20 minutes and it looked like it was working again but it didn’t last long. Its completely dead now. No lights, nothing!
Lesson learned. Don’t try and use the MP3400 in 32 degrees heat inside the protective case, inside the boot of a car.
Fortunately the Q1 Ultra is still working although i’m down to 60 minutes battery now. There’s no way to charge it up until I get home on Saturday evening. Here ends another Solar-UMPC test. Now where’s that beer I bought….