By Laura Shin
Posting in Design
Do you think a solar-powered bikini and similar "swimware" bring us closer to a renewable energy future or make it seem like a pipe dream?
I'm all for free, cheap energy, which -- technological hurdles aside -- largely describes solar.
I once coveted a backpack sporting photovoltaic (PV) panels while on an eight-day trek in the Himalayas, I've looked into buying a solar-powered iPhone battery charging case and I've even written about sun-fueled compacting trashcans.
I look forward to the day when everyday objects have the ability to get an energy boost from the sun, or when our clothing, cars and other possessions can harness and transfer its energy to other devices.
But while I wait for solar power to become mobile and ubiquitous, I sometimes see things that make me wonder whether it can go too far.
Take, for example, the solar-powered bikini.
Covered in flexible PV strips and conductive thread, the two-piece features a 5 Volt USB port by which you can charge a cell phone, an mp3 player or a camera.
Designer Andrew Schneider spends 80 hours custom-making each by hand (for $500 and up). He is also developing the iDrink -- board shorts for men that will be able to chill a beer -- for release this summer.
The added functionality of the bikini doesn't impair the function normally afforded by a bathing suit -- the ability to swim. You just need to unplug all your devices before jumping in and dry off fully before re-connecting them.
When I ask Schneider by email how many orders he's had, he says, "We've had some interest from various individuals, boutiques, and fashion shows."
This is a good answer to a question I didn't ask.
He came up with the idea for the solar-powered bikini while in a graduate sustainability course at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, which Schneider describes as an engineering school for artists or an art school for engineers. On the first day, people were brainstorming ideas for sustainable products and because Schneider had none, he joked to his friend that he would make a bikini that could cool a beer at the beach.
Though the skimpiness of a bikini prevents it from having enough surface area to power a chiller, the men's board shorts will get that part covered.
Science Scope is supposed to be about "the amazing discoveries, emerging research trends and innovative techniques to help solve business and technology problems now and in the future." And certainly one of those future problems will be energy, as climate change worsens and finding oil becomes even more challenging.
But do lark projects like this undermine efforts to make solar power ubiquitous by making it seem frivolous? Or will projects like this bring us closer to that future day when we can power up wherever we like without worrying about the climate or oil?
What do you think?
Photos: Andrew Schneider
Jun 7, 2011
Talk about a "Hot Lady", the poor thing would suffer from the weight and the problem of a real Hot top and Bottom because of the heat from the dark solar cells. Give the girls a break and use your beer cooler to absorb solar energy!
How much power do you really think any small panel will generate? You'd be lucky to power a cell phone with the bikini. It's not going to save the world.
Solar powered bikinis are a must have for our robotic women!... Cant have them running out of power while they are running back to the cabana for more beer!.... Sounds like something a geek would be working on... :)
No thanks, don't want a solar powered bikini, however solar powered phone would be very helpful. I keep forgetting to charge it. Needless to say I am not attached to my phone all the time. Also solar power charging for my mp3 player would be useful.
Of everything I've read here, the guy who thought of the solar beach umbrella should rush to the patten office.
Come on man! The beach ware is hideous! I could see maybe a solar cell or two to power a hologram or something, but that just looks very scratchy and lame. let alone the possible shock factor. I think it should be better used in like a fashionable umbrella with plugs or some kind of flotation device.
Aside from this pseudo novelty piece, and the variety of possible safety issues associated with a solar powered bikini, just consider the applications. Rural/desolate/remote/under developed/ocean based locations could remain powered up using this technology. Every consumer product could have the capacity to provide charge. We could potentially rid ourselves of ever having to find a wall to plug in. How would the world look if we didn't have to create power stations and utilities to provide power for low charge devices like basic water filtration systems/phones/lights/laptops etc..? What would this mean for developing nations? How could this influence our world? My suggestion: look beyond the bikini and contemplate for a moment, the thought of having true charge mobility, and how power at any time, anywhere, could improve the planet and shift our energy paradigm.
C'mon, people, where's your entrepreneurial spirit? We gotta start somewhere. Haven't any of you ever brainstormed? This is a type of brainstorming, and people are coming up with all kinds of interesting things that can spur others to think of even more interesting things. Although, I do kind of agree with @ajrmd's last line in his post: All this is a lame attempt for econuts to try to rationalize their existence. I think it's somebody smart enough to come up with something to make money off the econuts. Good for him.
We have serious energy related issues facing this country and the focus is on pop-art applications of existing technology. All this is a lame attempt for econuts to try to rationalize their existence.
I must admit I don't like the idea of the sun powered bikini but may be good for sun worshippers who like to been seen on the beach but rarely go into the water. (messes up their hair and/or makeup). If one is to be a sun worshipper - could use the bikini to power your Kindle. As yet - I haven't seen any mention of how sunscreen would help or hinder the bikini. If one must be dry to plug items in - what about sweating in the thing. I think a better idea would be the umbrella as some have already mentioned. Or what about something on/at life guard stations. Could help power emergency equipment ie, bullhorns or light signals etc. Or use to recharge batteries for AEDs and the like. The idea of solar coolers. Not only good for the beach but for fishing trips or a picnic or a day at the ball park sitting in the grass cheap seats. Solar powered hats - charge back up batteries for the GPS unit, flashlights, cell phones radios, etc. Batteries would stay in a hat pocket or some other such thing while charging. When you change out batts - put the used ones in the hat and charge them back up. Or what about just a solar powered hat that helps keep your head cool? Strange fad type items like these bikinis may help create the ideas needed for something really useful. Clothe with solor panels. Great in the survivalist sector. Besides batteries for items - what about a heating blanket of sorts that can use solor energy for one with hypothermia. Probably won't always be fully charged. May be hard to maintain a constant temperature, but anything that can help in the great outside can truly be a lifesaver.
Wow. One more for the Guiness Book of Greatest Useles Inventions of the Year.... By he way, if your girlfriend needs solar power to get energized (warmed up) You might consider to start looking for a more temperamental girlfriend.... ;-))
if you look back at the history of inventions and their practical usages you will see some pretty silly expressions of some very common items in our culture. One example is of the telephone that kind of did work out beyond anyone's imagination. Or how silly was it to think of going to the moon before we did it? A solar powered bikini is pretty silly but the idea of using surface area to produce energy is something that is becoming common place.
Looks like a man designed it.....no wonder it hasn't sold. Duct tape can be more skillfully applied. I second the solar beach blanket or even a cooler.
Anything htat increases use of PV decrease costs. This is silly, but the public needs constant reminders or they will return to their old ways. Beach blank is much better--less production? Not if you actually swim!
Use an inductive charger and the need to dry off is alleviated. Sure, it's sort of a gimmick, but a cute girl wearing it will make it cool
I like the idea of the blanket, due to increased area. However, sand and people sitting on it would decrease functionality. What about using an umbrella? - The size could be varied to meet the energy need. - It is usually pointed towards the sun. - It will not be covered up or go into the water.
if this guy is psending 80 hrs. and selling bikini for $500, he's not even making minimum wage. nonetheless, it does sound like a fun job,
Just think what else could be powered by this :) This is not giving solar a good name but certainly entertaining!
...The Simpsons were trying to generate inventions by saying random words. "Electric"..."Booger!" "Automatic"..."Butt!" "Solar-powered"..."Bikini!" Wait! That last one! Build that last one!
It seems that a bikini would be the last place to put solar panels because the objective is to have as little surface area as possible.
"You just need to unplug all your devices before jumping in and dry off fully before re-connecting them." You think you are fully dried off when you aren't and plug something in. A solar=powered beach blanket makes much more sense.
Hi Hiporter, Love your comment. The idea of "distributed generation" (rather than centralized from power plants) is out there but there are a lot of hurdles. Perhaps innovative companies will start making it easier for us to carry our energy with us on the go, but I think you're right that in the developed world, we have so much access to power, we don't really every object to be able to self-power. I bet there are inventors in developing countries making distributed power products since they live in places where it's needed. Laura
Hi Llandau, Solar power at the lifeguard stations would be incredibly useful, and I just love the solar coolers idea. That's a great business idea just waiting for its next millionaire. And I bet camping enthusiasts would buy up some of your other ideas. Hopefully the camping industry has already figured that out! Laura
Hi Willbonds, The first time I saw this story, I thought it was ridiculous. But, I found it got me thinking about how great it would be if everyday objects could harness the sun's power, so I decided to ask SmartPlanet readers what they thought of this project. I'm actually glad I decided to write about it now, because as you can see from the comments here, it got people thinking about how useful it would be to have solar panels on a lot of everyday objects. Laura
Beach blanket or beach umbrella or canopy would make more sense. Although you sure would attract attention wearing something like that! David, www.hitechbrew.com
I agree mheartwood, I too think a solar powered beach blanket would cover more area and in turn provide more energy.