About this project
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
STRETCH GOAL UPDATE!!!!!!
...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!
We will be posting up a storm both in messages to Kickstarter backers and on our blog: http://www.solarpocketpages.com See the sweaty underbelly of making a new hardware technology as it happens
Here's the growing list...updated weekly:
I bought you guys lunch. Will you really eat anywhere for $10? Is that the glory of bootstrap garage invention? I mean, how cheap can you possibly eat?
Yes. And yes. And we can eat hyper-cheap: Alex just ate 3 lbs of garlic because he spent all his food money on servo motors. Ramen profitable? Puh-lease, Paul Graham. We're garlic-profitable.
The Solar Pocket Kit is capable of producing between 6 - 12 solar panels, depending on the size. Specifically, the standard kit includes 30 of our most versatile solettes (13mm x 52mm) and an assortment of special solettes, including 12 thin, 12 stout, and 12 square. The specific dimensions of the thin, stout, and square solettes are dependent somewhat on the feedback we get during this kickstarter on the most popular projects, and we will tweak the sizes of these special solettes accordingly.
The standard Solar Pocket Kit also comes with high-quality encapsulant, high temperature superglue (also known as cyanoacrylate) for combining the solettes (a first! all the projects in the video were made with this new solderfree DIY technique), four NdFeB magnets for easy electrical connections for projects like the playing card battery charger, and an ample length of adhesive copper tape. Again, all of these materials will be enough to make up to a dozen solar panels (but on average, closer to around nine or so)
We are also getting some questions about the voltage output potential from the Kit. This is up to you! Depending on how many solettes you connect together in series, you can get up to 15V output if you used all 30 of the basic solettes. But if you wanted to make a 5V output, for a solar powered butterfly robot, let's say, you'd need to connect just 10 of the basic solettes together. For a number of projects you won't need soldering (like, the arduino charge card and 5-minute nokia phone charger in some of our instructables don't require any soldering) -- but for more advanced projects soldering is helpful. If you need tips on this, please let us know and we will do our best to help out...!
There's more info on it in this update: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alex9000/the-solar-pocket-factory-an-invention-adventure/posts/303802
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