Funded! This project was successfully funded on May 2, 2013.

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An inexpensive, easy to use, practical, every day solar USB system. For those of us not just preparing for the end of the world.

**** Updates - Please Read****

A note about pledges, as I've gotten emails from some people who are confused.  What you see in the "Reward" box is what you get.  Nothing more, nothing less.  So when you pledge $55 you get just the 5W Solar Cell.  

When you pledge $60 you get just a 10,000mAh Power Bank.  Nothing more, nothing less.

I did it this way so that people could either order a USB Solar Cell with or without a Power Bank.  I personally don't use a Power Bank for charging up my phone day to day, my window has ample sunlight.  Though for camping I use a Power Bank as my power needs have changed.

Again, sorry about this confusion. I thought things were clear, but it seems as if I didn't lay things out well enough.

********


Solar Power Simplified

Solar power doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, yet that is what the market keeps throwing on the general public.  I've designed a very simple, low cost, easy to use fold out 5W Solar USB system.  No frills or thrills, just the basic USB power output that everyone needs to charge up their gadgets.

5W Folding Cell and 2600mAh Power Bank
5W Folding Cell and 2600mAh Power Bank

Background

For the past two years I've been designing and selling DIY solar USB kits. Cute little things that fit into an Altoids tin.  The problem that I kept running into is that my customers keep asking for more powerful charging setups. Hikers and campers wanted a system they could charge up during the day and then use at night, cyclists wanted a system that could keep their GPS units running all day long, and mission/relief groups wanted an inexpensive solar charger that worked with just about everything.  This stretched the limit of what I could make by hand or put together in a kit.  After working with some overseas manufacturers I came up with a simple solution that is not only easy to use, but insanely practical.

A 5W All Folded Up
A 5W All Folded Up

How It Works

The idea is simple.  Put three small solar cells together in a nice enclosure that outputs to USB.  Just unfold and plug in.  A small package that is inexpensive and very useful.

Combined, the solar cells put out 5W, or about 1 Amp of power at about 5 Volts, that outputs directly to a standard USB port.  No special dongle or adaptor needed, just plug in any device that has a USB port on it.  How does that translate into the "real world"?  At full sunlight you'll charge up an iPhone in around three hours.

Just charging.
Just charging.

We're also going to offer a bigger 7W setup that outputs about 5 Volts at around 1.5 Amps of power.  Same idea, just bigger solar cells.  This means you'll only have to wait a bit over two hours for your iPhone to be all charged up.

A 5W and 7W side by side
A 5W and 7W side by side
An iPhone 4 charging off a Power Bank
An iPhone 4 charging off a Power Bank
10W as compared to a 5W
10W as compared to a 5W

Lithium Power Bank

The biggest downside to solar is that you can't use it at night.  You need some way to store the power.  This is why I'm taking the insanely simple approach of pairing up the folding cell with some small lithium Power Banks.  It's a smart battery on the go.  Charge it up from the Folding Solar Cell, or any USB power source, and then just plug your gadget in.

The basic Power Bank features a 2600mAh battery, which is enough to get an iPhone 5 up to 90 - 95%.  Charge it up via the micro USB port and then plug your gadget up via the standard USB port.  The 2600mAh Power Bank also has a built in 1W LED, because having a flashlight around is just plain handy.

1W Flashlight on the 2600mAh Power Bank
1W Flashlight on the 2600mAh Power Bank

The 5600mAh power bank works the same way, only it's just a bit bigger and features a nice battery charge meter on the side.  It too has a flashlight, but it's kind of wimpy.

The nice thing about the Power Bank is that you can use it independently of the Folding Solar Cell.  Toss it in your backpack, packet, or purse for later use.  It's small enough to take anywhere.  (Like a plane flight or a long car ride?)

Power Banks, 2600mAh and 5600mAh
Power Banks, 2600mAh and 5600mAh
10,000mAh Power Bank charging two iPhone at once
10,000mAh Power Bank charging two iPhone at once

Urban Settings

Most people think of portable solar units as only being an "outdoors" tool, used only for those who are living off the grid.  But this just isn't so.  Think about how many items in your life run off USB or can run off USB.  These days it's not just your gadgets.

NYC, the most sunny place in America.
NYC, the most sunny place in America.

Use a suction cup to stick it to your window and charge up a gadget.  Plug in an AA-charger to charge up regular batteries from the sun, or the latest gaming device, or even a toy helicopter.  Keep it in your car in case of an emergency situation (like a hurricane maybe?), or for when the kids need some power during a long drive.

Keep a Power Bank charged up for later use, or just keep one in a pocket.

Charging in a Window
Charging in a Window
Charging AAs in a Window
Charging AAs in a Window

Outdoors

Heaps of camping gear these days comes with an option to charge off USB.  Lanterns, flashlights, headlamps, AA chargers, flex LED lights, camera batteries; all can be powered up as long as they take power from simple USB.  Really, any gadget that charges up off of a lithium battery can be charged up from USB.  Usually it's just as simple as matching up the correct type of plug.

When hiking with a dog...
When hiking with a dog...

Attach a Folding Solar Cell to a backpack, or hang it up in a tree, or off a tent.  Simple power on the go.  Hook a Folding Solar Cell to your backpack and let it charge up a Power Bank while you're hiking so that you have power when you when you reach camp for the night.  Never worry about your GPS running out of power again.

Easy to attach to any backpack you own
Easy to attach to any backpack you own

Around The World

I've worked with several aid and mission groups who have been trying to get solar power into the hands of those without reliable sources of electricity.  Such things as simple lighting, radio, cell phone, and GPS can help people in profound ways.  

The Folding USB Solar Cell is ideal for these situations.  It's small and easy to transport, it'll power anything USB quickly, and its cost allows groups to help larger groups of people.  Even without a way to store power (like the Power Bank), the Folding USB Solar Cell can be used to power daytime indoor lighting.

Compatibility 

If it runs off USB, it's going to run off one of these Folding USB Solar Cells. I designed the setup so that you have access to a standard female USB port. Charging a gadget up from one of the cells is no more difficult than charging up from a wall outlet or computer.

Plus USB has become the default plug and power source for small gadgets. Using USB allows these cells to be future proof to a certain degree. As long as gadgets in the future keep using USB, they'll keep working with these cells. Even if Apple keeps changing the connectors for their iDevices (like with the iPhone 5), one end will always be USB.

Charging a USB Lantern
Charging a USB Lantern

I've tried out the Folding USB Solar Cells and Power Banks on a wide variety of gadgets and devices. Apple devices such as iPods, iPads, and iPhone all play nice, as well as most other cell phones and Android devices. Smaller camping gadgets such as lanterns and flashlights all charge perfectly fine, and the Power Banks work very well with USB flex lights.

Tech Specs

5W With 2600mAh Power Bank
5W With 2600mAh Power Bank

5W Folding USB Solar Cell

  • 5V at 1 Amp
  • 18 inches by 7.5 Inches
  • 8.1 oz
  • Standard USB Port
  • Status LED
  • Monocrystalline Solar Cells (3)
  • Snaps and Grommets
  • Black Canvas Fabric

7W With 5600mAh Power Bank
7W With 5600mAh Power Bank

7W Folding USB Solar Cell

  • 5V at 1.49 Amp
  • 24 inches by 7.5 inches
  • 14.5 oz
  • Standard USB Port
  • Status LED
  • Monocrystalline Solar Cells (3)
  • Snaps and Grommets
  • Black Canvas Fabric

10W with 10,000mAh Power Bank
10W with 10,000mAh Power Bank

10W Folding USB Solar Cell

  • 5V at 2 Amp
  • 32.5 inches by 7.5 inches
  • 19 oz
  • Standard USB Port
  • Status LED
  • Monocrystalline Solar Cells (4)
  • Snaps and Grommets
  • Black Canvas Fabric

2600mAh Lithium Power Bank

  • 2600mAh Lithium Ion Battery (iPhone to 95%)
  • 4.5 Inches by 1 inch
  • 2.7
  • Micro USB Input (800mA)
  • Standard USB Output (800mA)
  • 1W LED Flashlight Mode
  • Aluminum with Black Finish
  • USB cable, adaptor set, and wall plug included

5600mAh Lithium Power Bank

  • 5600mAh Lithium Polymer Battery (Recharge an iPhone twice)
  • 4 inches by 2 inches by 1 inch
  • 4 oz
  • Micro USB Input (1 Amp)
  • Standard USB Output (1 Amp)
  • Small LED Flashlight
  • Charge Status LEDs
  • Plastic Case, Black and White
  • USB cable, adaptor set, and wall plug included

10,000mAh Lithium Power Bank

  • 10,000mAh Lithium Polymer Battery (Recharge an iPhone 4 times)
  • 5.25 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.5 inches
  • 8.7 oz
  • Micro USB Input (2 Amp)
  • 2 Standard USB Outputs (1 Amp and 2 Amp)
  • Charge Status LEDs
  • Aluminum and Plastic Case, Black
  • USB cable, adaptor set, and wall plug included

Stretch Goal

If I raise $20,000 I'll go a bit wild and throw in a free flex USB Light for every pledge above $25.  Which means anyone who gets a Cell or Power Bank.  (Those of you who are pledging for an option that includes a USB Flex LED will get a second one.)

Flex USB LED Light.  Handy for any lighting situation.
Flex USB LED Light. Handy for any lighting situation.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

The Folding USB Solar Cells have been made, tested, and put into some real life situations. They perform well. I've been creating and making solar projects for two years now and I'm highly confident in my work. I've had years of camping and cycling, so I know for a fact that these solar cells are a great addition to the outdoorsman's gear. With that in mind there are few risks to this project.

The largest risk would be juggling everything. I'm still a full time teacher who is kind of stretched just running his own website. I've never had anything manufactured before, or done any sort of fund raising on my own. I'm not a business major (my father is somewhere thinking "I told you so" on that one), I don't have an MBA, and I'm very much entering into new territory.

However, these problems are kind of small. I'm using manufacturers that I've worked with in the past and have a good reputation and high levels of quality. I've successfully run my own small business on the side for two years thanks to help from family, friends, and the local community. As I'm not actually hand making each of these the biggest problem on my end will be shipping everything out. But I've got lots of boxes for that and a lot of tape.

I'm setting a very realistic goal of $5,000. Once I have the funds I'll be able to get the items manufactured and in my hands by mid to late June. More or less you'll be getting your rewards by the end of June.

(It breaks down like this. May 2nd is when this ends. Then 14 days for Kickstarter to release the money to me. Then 3 - 4 weeks to get the stuff made and to me. Then another 1-2 weeks to get it to everyone who pledged. Mid - June is a good estimate on my end.)

I'll be using Facebook, Twitter, my website, and Kickstarter to keep everyone informed of the progress.

FAQ

  • Yup, probably. The Power Banks are not my design, just something I've gotten to improve the functionality and usefulness of the Solar Cells. In fact you can find heaps of similar Power Banks online or in store.

    I've spent several months testing out various Power Banks from a variety of supplier and makers. While many online look the same, or similar, quality is a massive issue. Some of those super cheap Power Banks on eBay are that way for a reason. They're factory rejects or old models, or are using just insanely cheap parts. I know, I've tested out heaps of them.

    So be assured, if you're getting a Power Bank it's not going to be cheap junk from some no name maker. You're getting a well made and quality Power Bank that'll work well with the Folding USB Solar Cell.

    Last updated:
  • No. They're not. They're more or less standard solar cells. Hard plastic backing and an epoxy covering.

    Last updated:
  • No. Thats a lot more power than these guys can put out. While I may be offering a 12V solar cell in the future (on my website, months from now) I won't be doing anything like that during the Kickstarter.

    An iPad or other USB based tablet is the best these setups can do.

    Last updated:
  • The solar cells are made with a hard plastic backing, with an epoxy coating on top. Pretty standard. While they are rather sturdy, you can break them if you try. Such as I wouldn't recommend driving over them repeatedly.

    When folded up the cells are rather well protected due to the fact that you're stacking them up. So if you've got them in your backpack or suitcase, you're going to have a tough time causing damage. (Unless you're bringing along several large pet rocks or your classic red brick collection.)

    So yes, you can break them, but not easily.

    Last updated:
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    You support us in a small way. Like providing us with a cheap cup of coffee from that greasy eatery down the street. As your reward we'll film ourselves saying your name at fun places around Milwaukee. We'll post it online so you can brag to your friends about it.

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    You've supported us in more than a small way. We can now buy a cup of Chai tea or a yummy Milwaukee beer. As a reward we'll film ourselves toasting your name at some local Milwaukee tea or beer houses. We'll post it online so you can brag to your friends about it.

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    You get a USB Power Bank! Rejoice! Thats USB power to the tune of 2600mAh. Comes in sexy black along with a USB cable and a pack of adaptors. Has a built in 1W flashlight! Add $5 for US shipping.

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    Get a 5600mAh Power Bank. In stylish black! Add $5 for US Shipping.

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    I see someone is showing off their wallet. You'll get one of our 5W folding Solar Cells. It has USB out for direct solar charging. Add $5 for US shipping.

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    SUPER MEGA POWER PLAY! Or something like that. At this amount you'll get a black lithium Power Bank that clocks in at 10,000mAh. Thats enough to charge an iPhone 4 times. Has two USB ports, one at 1 Amp and the other at 2 Amps. Also features battery status LEDs and comes with an adaptor pack. Add $5 for US Shipping.

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    You're getting one of our 7W Folding USB Solar Cells! It has USB out on it for direct solar charging. Add $5 for US Shipping.

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    Complete package. 5W Solar Cell with USB out. A black 2600mAh Lithium Pack with built in flashlight and adaptors. What more could you ask for? Add $5 for US shipping.

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    Clearly you have needs that are not being met. At this reward level you'll get a 10W Folding USB Solar Cell. Thats 5V at 2 Amps, enough for the most power hungry gear. Add $5 for US Shipping.

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    Mega Package. You'll get a 7W Folding Solar Cell. A black 5600mAh Lithium Pack with adaptors. Add $5 for US shipping.

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    Total Wattage Package. You'll get a 10W Folding USB Solar Cell and a black 10,000mAh lithium Power Bank. Power Bank has 2 USB ports that clock in at 1 Amp and 2 Amps of output, status LEDs, and an adaptor set. Please add $5 for US shipping.

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    The "Significant Other" package. One 5W and one 7W Folding Solar Cell. Two 2600mAh USB Power Banks, one blue and one black (with adaptors). We'll even throw in a USB Flex Light. Add $5 for US shipping.

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    The "One of Everything" package. One 5W and 7W Solar Cell. One 2600mAh and one 5600mAh solar cell. One flex LED light, one AA/AAA charger, and one Universal Camera adaptor. Add $5 for shipping.

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    The "Wild Man of the Mountain" pack. Two 5W, and two 7W Solar Cells. Two 5600mAh Power Pack and two 2600mAh Power Packs. A USB Flex LED Light. A Universal Camera Battery Charger. A USB Powered AA/AAA Charger. Plusssss we'll even throw is some cables for hooking these things up to your backpack. Add $5 for US shipping.

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    The "due to popular request" reward. Get one of each 5W, 7W, and 10W Folding USB Solar Cells. Get one of each 2600mAh, 5600mAh, and 10,000mAh lithium Power Banks. I'll also throw in an AA/AAA USB Charger, a USB Flex LED Light, and a Universal Camera Battery Charger. Plus 6 little bungie cords so you can hook up all the cells up to your backpacks or tents. (Also free shipping within the USA because you're clearly spending heaps of money on this project.)

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    The "No one is really going to buy this" Package. You get everything in the wild man pack, plus a 10W and a 10,000mAh pack. Then we'll fly you into Milwaukee (domestic flights only) and then show you a good time. What kind of good time? Brewery tours and a Brewers baseball game. Plus we have great seats behind home plate. We'll even throw in a hotdog. (Though you'll have to work around our ticket schedule.)

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