The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation serves areas that lack a reliable electrical grid. With some ingenuity, it has made bicycle generators, hand cranks, and even water wheels become interchangeable power sources. Now, OLPC is harnessing solar energy with a new low cost tablet.
The foundation demonstrated its new creation today at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Armdevices.net was able to capture a video of OLPC's sub US$100 tablet and its novel solar protective cover. OLPC also blogged about a prototype solar panel for laptops.
The cover serves two functions: it protects the tablet, but also supplies power with an integrated 4 Watt solar cell and a thin back-up battery. A two hour charge powers the 2 Watt tablet for up to four hours. Not bad for a device that should easily meet basic computing requirements.
(I'd question why One Laptop Per Child doesn't just rebrand as One Tablet Per Child. People who only use PCs for basic stuff–like checking e-mail, apps, and browsing the Web — don't need overly powerful, energy hungry hardware. Touch interfaces have also proven intuitive enough to be used by illiterate children, individuals with special needs, third graders, and adults who lack basic computing skills.)
Don't expect to find the solar cover at your local electronics store: it's designed specifically for OLPC's tablet. However, there are several options for people who would like a green charge while on the go. A solar powered Kindle cover was announced at CES this week.
Voltaic Systems introduced a new line of its “OffGrid” solar-powered backpacks in October 2010. They are available in a variety of styles, with either built-in or detachable solar cells. The solar charger powers an internal battery that connects to devices via an integrated USB port.
Another start-up has taking a more revolutionary approach toward making energy independent devices. French solar energy start-up Wysips has developed a transparent photovoltaic film that adheres to LCD screens. Perhaps an even lower cost solution will be available to OLPC some time in the near future.
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