The Solar Pocket Factory is just what it sounds like -- a small, automated machine that churns out microsolar panels to be used in a variety of applications like charging cell phones, arduinos and battery packs -- but the project is much bigger than that.
Inventors Shawn Frayne and Alex Hornstein have started a Kickstarter campaign for the Solar Pocket Factory, not just to ramp up production of this cool machine, but to improve the quality of small-scale solar panels, lower their cost and to expand their reach to people across the globe. Ultimately, Frayne and Hornstein want to make it the first crowd-funded advance in clean technology.
The duo explains:
We found that about 50% of the cost of a microsolar panel is in the assembly: every part of the panel is made by hand, from breaking apart the silicon wafers into small pieces, to soldering them, gluing them onto a panel and covering them with plastic. We also found that many of these panels are flawed--about fifteen percent of the microsolar panels are rejected and thrown out because they were soldered imperfectly. Finally, the materials used are cut-rate, and will fail in a few years as UV from the sun breaks down the cheap plastic that coats the panels, even though the silicon cells trapped inside can easily work for twenty-five years.
We figured that if we could automate the production and testing, we could save about 25% of the cost of a panel. Precise, repeatable assembly and automated quality testing could cut down on the number of panels that have manufacturing defects and help us rework the ones that do, further decreasing our costs. We could put some of those savings into using high quality materials, so our panels will last longer and gather more light. As an end result, we could make microsolar panels about 30% cheaper than the existing panels and make them last five times longer in the sun.
The Solar Pocket Factory is able to achieve these great advances, so the next step is to get it out into the world.
The second and equally important part of the project is to make the machine kind of like a 3D printer -- a piece of technology that makes manufacturing a DIY process where designs and construction are open source and accessible to anyone. The inventors have already been spreading the word on how to make your own solar powered cell phone charger and other projects at home on Instructables. Here's a sample video instruction below.
As a reward for giving to the Kickstarter campaign, donors can receive a Solar Pocket Kit, Solar Explorer Kit or Solar Cell Phone Charger Kit depending on the level of donation that include all the materials you need to start a solar panel building hobby.
The inventors hope to reach their goal of $50,000 by September 14.