Wearable Solar Panels To Revolutionize Mobility for Armies

solar soldier photo

ANU PhD student Azul Osorio Mayon and Major General John Caligari DSC, AM. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Designers have been trying to come up with ways to integrate solar panels with clothing and still have it look cool. For the most part, it's been a fail. But what if you set style aside and go for straight functionality? Australia's army is testing out wearable solar panels that could make soldiers far more mobile without giving up access to plenty of electricity. The Australian National University Center for Sustainable Energy Systems has a $2.3 million contract with the Australian Department of Defense to come up with better technology for soldiers. Part of the technology revolves around devices that "enhance their close combat tactical awareness and survivability." But how do you charge those devices without weighing soldiers down? That's where solar comes in.

"The development of these wearable solar cells will now allow soldiers to generate power in the field and reduce the need for batteries for their electronic devices. They will also establish a power supply that keeps electronic devices operational throughout the duration of missions," Dr Igor Skryabin, Development Manager for the project, said in a press release.

The solar cells developed are only the thickness of a human hair, making them flexible and light all while staying efficient in converting light to electricity. Plus, they're tough enough to withstand the abuse they'll surely get in the field.

The panels are also very versatile. As Ecouterre writes, "The panels can be worn on a soldier's helmet, uniform, backpack, or tent..." And the usefulness can be applied to civilians as well. Maybe designers can take the technology behind these solar panels and finally realize the dream of attractive solar clothing that can keep cell phones and iPods charged without needing to plug into the grid.

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