Solar Pocket Pages 4.25.13: a funny thing happened on the way to the pocket
Good evening, dear pockets.
We shall start with an announcement:
Those of you who got kit rewards should have them or will be receiving them shortly, and Shawn and I thought it would be a good idea to make a forum for people to discuss all things solar. So, we present to you (drumroll, please....), the Solar Pocket Forum!
Both Shawn and I will be reading and posting on the forums. We encourage you all to share your projects, to post and discuss and help one another, and above all, to make wonderful things.
...And now, an update:
It's been quite hard to write with authority about something that we're making up as we go along, but that's the pocket factory story these days. The Solar Pocket Factory has moved into a realm of uncertainty, and Shawn and I are experimenting in real-time with this beast, trying to chart a way through the microsolar murk with a blinky compass and poor visibility.
We got our first full machine making panels on the morning of January of 18th, after an all-nighter hacking on the code and mechanicals that made it work. Three hours after filming the video, we caught a train up to Dongguan to try to sell the machine to a microsolar manufacturer.
Long story short, selling a machine that costs $50,000 is easier said than done. We tried over and over again, but clinching the deal was always a trick. Even more disconcerting was the idea that Shawn and I wouldn't buy a machine for $50k, so we were trying to sell to people who were, well, not-us. This requires an extra degree of sales acumen, and frankly, that's not our strong suit.
Rather than trying to fix the sales, which we didn't like, we decided to muck around with solar panels, which we like very much. One day in March, Shawn and I were playing around with a laminator, and we happened upon a funny combination of materials: PET film, solettes, EVA and PET film. When we made a sandwich of these materials and ran them through a laminator, we got a solar panel. It was waterproof. It was sturdy. And it worked.
Our current Solar Pocket Factory automates the traditional construction technique for solar panels. The thing is, this is a pretty intricate process--we have to place solettes, coat tabbing in rosin, dispense a certain length of tabbing to connect neighboring solettes and solder the tabbing to the solettes. We can do all this, but each of the steps adds complexity and expense to the machine. What's exciting about the lamination technique is that it's a new process--with this technique, we don't use any tabbing, and we don't solder the solettes. We just have to place the solettes and the end contacts for the panel, and then we run it through a laminator. The pressure of the lamination is enough to hold the solettes in electrical contact. This is a much simpler process, and it means that a machine that builds panels with this process is also much simpler.
Here's an illustrated view of the process:
The astute reader of the Pocket Pages might ask, "wait a second--I thought you tried shingling before! What's different now?"
Well, astute reader, I'm glad you asked. Before, we soldered our shingled solettes together, and this made our panels susceptible to thermal stresses that build up as the panel microscopically expands and contracts as it heats up and cools down. Now, the solettes are pinned together with a lamination, but they are free to slide against one another, keeping those thermal stresses from building.
Here's a more detailed explanation (with pictures!) of the problems with soldered shingling:
Once we had this simple process of shingling and lamination solar panels, Shawn and I started to think about a variant of the Solar Pocket Factory could make these panels. After a bit of doodling, we drew up a machine that we code-named the Basking Shark. This is very similar to the upside-down shingling machine that Shawn shows off in the Science Friday video from ~six months ago. We assemble a shingled panel upside-down onto scotch tape, and then bring in rolls of plastic on either side of the panel and run the whole thing through a laminator to seal it. A continuous strip of working, plastic-encapsulated panels comes out of the end of the laminator, ready to go.
One thing you may notice about this design is a couple little logos on the top right: Creative Commons and Open Hardware. We think of this design as a hackable tool for making and experimenting with solar panels, and we want other people to build off our designs and techniques, add their own ideas into the mix, and continue to share. We yearn to see tons of new ideas around ways to make and use solar panels, and we think a simple, open tool that makes it easy to make lots of solar is a big step in the right direction.
It's not all fancy illustrations, too. These last two weeks have been particularly fruitful ones. We've been up to our elbows in laminators, plastic sheets and solar panels, working out techniques for the perfect lamination, and this ugly tangle of aluminum extrusion and joy is the first Basking Shark prototype:
We still have lots of designing, prototyping and testing to go, but at 5am one morning, after an intense night of hacking, I got the first complete panel placement off the prototype Basking Shark machine. The future is bright!
There's one other big change I want to bring up: I'm going to move out of the Philippines on July 1. I've been in the Philippines for over eleven months, now, and I've come to understand a lot about living and working in the country. One of the main reasons I moved to the Philippines was to be able to work on cleantech projects relevant to the country. I believe that microsolar is a relevant, important technology that can offer a lot to the Philippines, but right now, I'm spending the bulk of my time working on the Solar Pocket Factories that make microsolar, rather than making and distributing microsolar products themselves. At this point in the Pocket Factory's development, most of the people interested in our pocket factories are in the US, China and Europe, we're assembling our latest factories in Hong Kong, and I'm working on the electronics from the Philippines. We are a small team, with limited resources, and we're spread very thin right now. We are reaching a point where we can get not only panels, but accessible pocket factories out into the world, and I want to be able to dedicate the time and effort that the project needs.
Part of my decision is also a personal choice, and that's also important to me.
There are still projects to do in the Philippines, and when the factories are ready, there will be an opportunity to get our microsolar out into the country, but right now, we need to focus on making the machines work and getting them out into the world.
To my friends in the Philippines, to those who helped me move here, who worked with me, advised me, traveled with me, sang beatles songs at 3am, stayed up all night and goofed off with me--marami salamat po.
seconds to go
Pledge $10 or moreYou selected
Take us out to lunch--Inventors gotta eat. Lots of famous kickstarter-ers put up rewards where you can pay $10,000 to get lunch with them. We're not that famous, so instead, _you_ can buy _us_ lunch. Give us whatever you feel like, and in your message to us, tell us the fanciness level of the restaurant we should go to. We'll take a picture of us eating the cheapest thing we can buy and send it to you. If you're in Manila or Hong Kong, come eat with us!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $25 or moreYou selected
140 backers All gone!
Early Bird Special--Our first 140 backers get a whopping 28% off our kit. This is the same Solar Pocket Kit you see below, but at a low low price for our early backers. Look at you! You're punctual, excited about solar energy, and you've got great taste in shoes. You really oughta reward yourself with a kit to make solar panels. And, international shipping is included!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $30 or moreYou selected
The Solar Pocket Factory Book--Read the story of our next year as we work to change the way the world makes small solar panels. Chock full of dreams, designs, plans, stories, freaks, We want to open up not just the invention itself, but talk about the people and motivation behind the invention, the different tacks we try to get the thing to work and to bring our idea out into the world. Now with more truth! Free shipping, anywhere in the world.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $35 or moreYou selected
The Solar Pocket Shield--This shield is the easiest way to use cleantech to power your arduino project. This is an assembled and tested shield that harvests energy using a built-in solar panel, providing a constant 5V to your arduino while storing excess charge in a built-in battery. Just plug it into your arduino and the shield takes care of the rest!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $35 or moreYou selected
The Solar Pocket Kit--This kit comes with everything you need to make your own solar panels quickly and easily. Convert all your portable electronics to solar power, come up with your own solar creations, and just experiment with making solar panels. Every kit has an assortment of pre-cut solar cells, glue to assemble strings of the cells, waterproof covering for your panel, a length of copper tape and small magnets. Free international shipping!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $60 or moreYou selected
Double pack--Solar invention is more fun with two! Get two Solar Pocket kits and save $10. Give one to a friend and make some solar panels together! Nothing says friendship like sunshine and silicon! Free international shipping!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $60 or moreYou selected
Solar Experimenter's Kit--This is everything you need to make your own solar panels from scratch and explore the potential of the power they produce. Each pack includes a Solar Pocket kit with everything you need to make your own solar panels, as well as an assortment of stuff to power off solar--high-powered LEDs, a transistor radio, a DC motor, assorted phone charge cables (not for smart phones--if you're interested, check out our solar phone charging kit below), and a nickel metal-hydride battery pack. The kit also comes with a manual with step-by-step instructions showing how to build your panels and run experiments. Perfect for classroom activities, science fairs, and just experimenting with solar on your own. Every kit comes with trace amounts of our DNA! The free shipping fairy will bring these kits to your doorstep.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $65 or moreYou selected
Sunlover's package--For people who love to make solar, we're bundling our standard Solar Pocket Kit with a large assortment of extra solar cells. In addition to everything that's in the kit, this package includes one hundred of our standard pieces, and fifty pieces each of our thin and stout pieces. Make solar projects galore! Free international shipping is part of the deal.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
Solar Phone Charge Kit--Keep your phone charged with solar you built from scratch! This is a bundle of our Solar Pocket kit, a high-capacity Lithium-ion battery and a Seeed Studios' LiPo Rider Pro circuit. The Solar Pocket kit has everything you need to make your own solar panel, and the LiPo Rider circuit board comes pre-assembled and takes care of charging up a lithium battery and providing a regulated power output that can power most iPhones, Galaxy, Blackberry, and other Smartphones . The LiPo Rider outputs to a female USB port that can accept any USB charge cable--you supply your own cable and phone. And you just _know that shipping is gonna be free, anywhere in the world.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $125 or moreYou selected
The "I love what you're doing and want all of it!" reward -- You get the Solar Phone Charge Kit and a copy of our book, fresh off the presses. Additionally, we will send you an eight by ten color glossy photograph of the machine you help create, signed robotically by the Pocket Factory. The Phone Charge Kit ships in February '13, and the book ships in September 2013. As always, free international shipping!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $200 or moreYou selected
Classroom kit--get three Solar Pocket kits and two Solar Explorer kits, enough for ten students to simultaneously tinker and discover new things about solar! Free international shipping!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
5 backers All gone!
Friend Of The Sun!--You get the solar charge kit, the book, AND we will write a song in your honor and program the pocket factory's stepper motors to play a digital solo. You can choose from the following premises for the song: (a) what your life would be like if you were a viking, (b) if you were an astronaut, how you would deal with loneliness, or (c) an instrumental electronica piece based on mapping the frequencies from a 2D fourier transform of your facebook profile photo to different scales, played entirely by the Pocket Factory Actuator Orchestra. We include a youtube video of the Pocket Factory playing the song and a printed poster of the algorithmically generated source code that creates the music.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
2 backers Limited (3 left of 5)
Solar Sea Haiku! -- We mail you an electronic, solar-powered plush sea animal shouting a mildly obscene yet flattering haiku written about you in a language that you do not speak. Also, you get a Solar Phone Charge Kit and a copy of the book, but really, you're in it for the offensive solar-powered stuffed octopus. (sea creature plush toy is at our discretion; a haddock, mantis shrimp, coho salmon, and octopus are all under consideration)Estimated delivery:
Pledge $5,000 or moreYou selected
1 backer All gone!
Make Your Mark On Solar--For the first year of Solar Pocket Factory production, you'll get a 1" x 1" space on the back of every panel we ship, and you can fill that space with any image, pattern or text you wish (must be classy). We'll be laser-marking the backs of each solar panel the pocket factory produces to mark down the power output and quality check of the panel, and we'll use this same laser to mark down the image you provide, as well. Naturally, you also get the Solar Phone Charge Kit, a signed copy of the Solar Pocket Factory Book, and something pretty and undisclosed.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $10,000 or moreYou selected
0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)
World's Best Solar Pocket Party!! We will bring the Solar Pocket Factory to any city, village, or pastureland on this wonderful planet of ours. And we're gonna rent out that pastureland, apartment, industrial building, or airplane hanger (depends on location). And we're gonna throw a two-day solar energy party unheard of since Helios drank so many photons he had to change his name to Apollo. But this isn't just about glorious solar bacchanal. We're gonna have a fully operational Solar Pocket Factory as a centerpiece after all, and that means we are making some solar panels. One hundred solar smartphone chargers to be exact. Made of old bottles of whiskey, 3D printed cases, coasters, potted plants -- solar craft in one giant make, with the Solar Pocket Factory. Oh, and one more thing--Here's where it will take a true visionary, a true humanitarian, and true lover of the sun to grab this reward: All the party goers are gonna paint the town solar. That means we are going to take those 100 solar chargers made in the party and peel-and-stick them around your city. Think solar charging utility, rising from the crowd! Bike racks, lamp posts, friendly coffeeshops -- wherever we can add a solar charger, we will in one glorious night of solar sharing. The idea is these chargers will be geotagged so that people in your town can find them whenever they need a charge. It's a giant experiment in solar power, flashmob-style. Invite up to a fifty of your closest friends -- you have to provide your own transportation and we will provide the rest. We'll be your hosts and help ensure everyone makes a functioning charger and gets them into town for all to benefit from -- and has a weekend to tell their kids about. And we'll provide all the accoutrements that come with a party of this magnitude. + some surprises. We may be geeky, but we know how to throw invention parties. Search "TacoCopter Party" for reference. This reward can be fulfilled anytime between June - Dec 2013; we will do our best to match your schedule request, but message us if you have a very specific date in mind right now so we can confirm it will workEstimated delivery:
- (30 days)