Funded! This project was successfully funded on September 14, 2012.

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We are two inventors working to revolutionize the world of small-scale solar panels. Follow our story and make awesome solar things!

*******************UPDATE*************************

Kickstarter, there's been a tremendous response so far.  Now, we want to take this to the next level!  If we can raise $100k, we'll redesign the expensive CNC laser cutter in the Pocket Factory and release the designs under an open-source license for anyone to use and build upon.  And if we can raise $150k, we'll make the solar pocket factories solar-powered.  Solar-powered machines that make solar energy.  Kapow!  Tell your neighbors, tell your friends, help pitch in.  Let's make this thing HAPPEN!

And now, back to the main kickstarter:

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What if you could have electricity anywhere there was sunlight? What if the charge on your phone could last for weeks, the poorest, most remote homes in the world could have electric home lighting, and adding a USB charge outlet was as simple as slapping a sticker onto a sunlit wall? All of these are becoming possible thanks to microsolar: small solar panels that are small and cheap enough to go anywhere.

We are Shawn Frayne and Alex Hornstein, two independent inventors who fell in love with the dream of clean energy, everywhere, for everyone. Inspired by this dream, we built a half-dozen products based on microsolar panels, like solar lights and distributed USB power grids, but in the process, we learned that the current solar panels leave a lot to be desired: the panels break after a few years, they're expensive, and they're not made very well. We loved the possibilities that microsolar offered, and we kept asking ourselves, "Could we make it better?" 

This simple question led us on a voyage of investigation and discovery through the world of small, low-cost solar; through rotting solar factories in Southern China to shivering, soaked motorcycle trips across unelectrified tropical islands in the Philippines and countless late nights working on prototypes in an industrial building in Hong Kong.  And all along the way, we kept asking questions, and started to find answers.  Would it make a difference if we could make better, cheaper microsolar?  Yes!  Could we invent a way to make microsolar better?  You bet!

In search of solar truths
In search of solar truths

We're six months into our exploration, and we've done a lot of observing, thinking, designing, prototyping and testing.  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.  Looking at all these problems, we started coming up with solutions.

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.

So we got to work.  we've spent every cent we can scrounge building a Solar Pocket Factory, a small, automated machine that can make solar panels anywhere in the world, at a pace and quality that beats a sprawling factory. We work with a small team of brilliant people from around the world who put their own inspiration into this machine, improving and refining it. Our baby is getting pretty good, now, cranking out solar panels and doing it right.  But if we want to impact the world of solar, we need to scale up to get our panels out of our workshops and into people's hands.  And we want to do that with kickstarter, making this the first crowd-funded advance in clean technology.


Sure, we could dig up a couple of suits and run around trying to convince People With Money that we're the next big thing.  But if we're wearing suits and giving presentations, we're not doing what we love to do:  invent.  And that's why we're coming to Kickstarter.  We want to try something a little new and a little crazy:  we want to fund a new clean-tech invention with crowd support, and in return, bring our backers along with us, in a front-row seat as we work to change the world of microsolar.

The Pocket Factory making a solar panel
The Pocket Factory making a solar panel

We're inventors today because we grew up reading stories of great inventors and the projects that they dove into.  And now that we're diving into a project of our own, we want to open it up to the world.

The first part of this is to share the tools we use when we work with solar.  We've made hundreds of solar panels by hand, and it turns out that it's pretty easy and fast to make your own solar panel to power your own electronics and projects.  We've worked out some neat ways to make solar panel, at home, without any fancy skills or materials.  We can power arduinos off solar harvested from ordinary indoor lights, charge our phones with chargers made in a few minutes out of household materials, and build our own solar battery chargers.  We've put up step-by-step instructions for our projects on instructables, so anyone can make our projects at home and experiment with building their own solar panels.  

Want to see how easy it is to put solar in your life?  Here's a video from one of our instructables showing how to make a solar-powered cell phone charger in just a few minutes:

The materials we use to do this are pretty simple:  glue, silicon cells, glass and plastic, and we provide links for anyone to buy them on their own.  But to make it easy to get started, we put together The Solar Pocket Kit, with everything you need to make your own panels.  These are the same techniques and materials that we use when we're experimenting in the lab, and the silicon cells in the kit will be custom scored and broken using a part of our solar factory.  By getting this kit, you get an easy way to experiment with solar, and you support us as we build up the factory, and publish more DIY solar projects along the way.  

The Solar Pocket Kit
The Solar Pocket Kit

We're also offering the Solar Explorer's Kit--the Solar Pocket Kit along with an assortment of devices that you can power with the panels you create, and the Solar Phone Charger Kit--the Solar Pocket Kit and the components you need to assemble a smartphone charger.  Photos are below, and full descriptions are in the rewards section on the right side of the page.

The Solar Experimenter's Kit
The Solar Experimenter's Kit
The Solar Phone Charger Kit
The Solar Phone Charger Kit

In addition to sharing our tools, we want to share the story of the invention.  We're trying to do something pretty ambitious:  disrupt the billion dollar microsolar industry from a couple of tiny workshops.  It's not going to be easy.  Along the way, there'll be breakthroughs, explosions, moments of strife, hope, bizarre discoveries, hard work, tales of social injustice, good people and an awful lot of solar panels.  We'll capture all of this, releasing it in weekly videos and stories as we go.  And after a year, we'll collect the postings and put together a book that tells the story of the evolution of the solar pocket factory, complete with exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and stories.  By backing us and reading our story, you get an inside view into the world of solar, and you'll help us make our dream a reality.  We don't know how this will all turn out, but we're making two promises to our backers:  we're gonna do everything possible, and then some, to make solar pocket factories real, and we're going to be brutally honest in our writing.

For us, working on the solar pocket factory is already a dream come true.  We get to invent new solar technologies, and there's nothing that we'd rather be doing.  And now we're at a point where our invention can start to bring solar into people's lives on a large scale, and we need Kickstarter's help to get us there.  Anything you can contribute, large or small, helps push us along, and for your help, we are profoundly grateful.

Shine!

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  STRETCH GOAL UPDATE!!!!!!

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...And now, for a bit more on the stretch goals:

If we reach $100k, we'll re-engineer the laser cutter from scratch and open-source our lasercutter designs. The single most expensive item in a Solar Pocket Factory is the CNC laser scorer that scores the raw silicon cells to whatever size we need. Off the shelf, a 50W laser scorer costs ~$10k and is big--about the size of an ice chest. To develop a compact, low-cost pocket factory, we need to re-engineer this laser cutter from the ground up to be small, integratable, and cheap. We'd like to get the cost of this laser down to $1,000, buidlable using readily available components. But lasers are good for all kinds of things, not just scoring silicon. If we can reach $100k, we'll release our designs and instructions under an unrestrictive, Creative Commons 3.0 license, for anyone to make their own or build upon in future designs. Because as long as we're building little robot factories, we should make sure they have powerful lasers.

If we reach $150k, we'll solar power the Solar Pocket Factories. Can you dig it, Kickstarter? Solar-powered machines that make solar panels! We've already got machines like the Rep Rap that can make the parts to make more of themselves. What if we could make machines that can make the power to power themselves? Being able to make grid-independent production is a big deal not just for us, but for the new field of distributed manufacturing as a whole. Because as long as we're building little robot factories with lasers, we should make them self-replicating and self-sustaining.

These are big dreams, but we like 'em that way. We've given these a lot of thought, and we know that we can make this happen. These are extensions of the Solar Pocket Factory concept that make it more accessible, more powerful, and more disruptive. With your help, we can make our Solar Pocket Factory a bucking bronco, right out of the gate. So saddle up, pardner! Help us hit these goals and build some wonderful technology. Help us get the word out--tell your friends, your family, tell everyone you know! And above all else, help us do big things with small solar!

FAQ

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    79 backers

    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!

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    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!

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    64 backers

    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.

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    25 backers

    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!

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    297 backers

    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!

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    37 backers

    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!

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    61 backers

    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.

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    83 backers

    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.

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    142 backers

    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.

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    65 backers

    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!

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    26 backers

    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!

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    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.

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    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)

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    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.

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    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 work

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Funding period

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