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Tablet Prototype Needs No External Power Supply

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the fully-integrated-car-battery dept.

Education 110

timothy writes "I'd like to see computing devices with no need for an external power supply — an e-book reader, a general knock-about PDA, a phone — all kinds of things. But there's a certain heart-strings appeal to such a computer intended as an educational tool for precisely those kind of places where basic infrastructure (like the provision of electricity) is a stumbling block. Perhaps built-in solar makes more sense, in more places, than the hand-cranked power the OLPC project ended up dropping from their laptops-for-kids program."

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110 comments

First Post (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236090)

I'd like to say it was from a PC with no outside power supply, but I can't. I don't think I can get the generator and bicycle rigged up in time.

Re:First Post (2, Insightful)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236512)

Stop being lazy, Gilligan! Mr. Howell wants his blender working by this afternoon, and the coconut smoothies won't make themselves!

Best feature (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236104)

The best thing about built-in solar and no external supply is that it would force users to regulate their usage time.

Re:Best feature (2, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236222)

I'm building one that runs on hydro power, but it's a little big with the swimming pool attached to it.

Re:Best feature (1)

euphemistic (1850880) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236706)

I'm not really so sure that's a concern in the places where there isn't even an infrastructure for electricity. Those kinds of places tend to be extremely poor countries (or just areas) where the people including children have to work all day in fields or factories if they want to be able to eat that day. We're not exactly talking about kids lazing on the couch all day long playing plants vs. zombies for 8 hours and shouting at their mother because they want McDonalds for dinner tonight.

Even if it were a concern, you could just program a timer into it or something.

Re:Best feature (5, Insightful)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236966)

The best thing about built-in solar and no external supply is that it would force users to regulate their usage time.

Heh, yeah.

Why is it that people think solar power works better in the tropics than elsewhere? Do they think we don't have clouds?

I live and work in a Least Developed Country, and for years now I've watched as, time and again, people take a look at the power generation problem and say, "SOLAR FTW." Then they discover that it rains much of the year, that there are mountains which tend to reduce the hours of direct sunlight, as well as a smattering of rain forest overhead and, to top it all off, we occasionally get hurricanes, which leave the place without power at exactly the time we need it most.

Bottom line: Every location has its own unique power generation challenges. In some places, wind is the answer. In others, micro-hydro. In others a diesel generator and a big battery is the only reasonable answer. For most, it's a mix of several approaches. I have yet to see a single community in the entire country for which solar is the entire answer.

So to technology makers, I can say only this: PUT A FUCKING PLUG IN IT. The solar panel is optional; the plug is not. You don't -you can't- know what form of power generation is going to work. So leave that problem for others to solve. Just make it low-enough-power that it's not going to cost more to run than it is to purchase.

Re:Best feature (1)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237686)

This is why shake/crank is perhaps the best. As long as someone has enough energy to move, they have the energy to operate. And as long as a shake/crank device has an external plug to power other things, you can make it run.

The worse part today, however, is how much power devices use.

- Backlit screen? Better be switchable. The screen needs to be readable in sunlight too, so that switching the backlight off actually saves power usefully.

- Processor? The slower, the better. Yes, that's counterintuitive, but power consumption scales linearly with clock speed. Getting the workable voltage down as far as possible also helps, since it's actually the square of the voltage that impacts power consumption - the problem there is, current tech can only go down so far, and the "lowest voltage" CPU's also happen to be the most fragile.

- Extra devices. USB costs power. How much depends on the device, but do you REALLY want to saddle them without the ability to run an external backup device or printer?

Re:Best feature (1)

Vegemeister (1259976) | more than 3 years ago | (#34239722)

Work done also scales linearly with clock speed. Reducing clock speed is beneficial only so far as it allows the CPU to run at lower voltage. Modern CPUs are generally pretty good with C1_power/C0_power, but there is room for improvement. I contend that the key to reducing power consumption is to reduce unnecessary wakeups. These statistics can be viewed in Linux with the powertop utility.

Re:Best feature (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34243282)

Actually, solar panels will work with cloud cover. Take a solar power calculator outside, and it will still work.

And wind is almost never the answer.

Thermodynamics (2, Funny)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236114)

In this house, we obey the laws of Thermodynamics!

No external power supply they say, well then, either they finally created a perpetual motion machine, or they're getting the energy from some external power supply.

Re:Thermodynamics (1, Offtopic)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236138)

In this house, we obey the laws of Thermodynamics!

No external power supply they say, well then, either they finally created a perpetual motion machine, or they're getting the energy from some external power supply.

Excellent Simpsons reference [wikiquote.org] from episode [2F19] The PTA Disbands.

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236360)

You realize that Homer Simpson has said everything, right? And that it's no longer possible to express a thought without quoting or paraphrasing Homer Simpson? Probably even this one...

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

Noughmad (1044096) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236750)

You realize that Homer Simpson has said everything, right? And that it's no longer possible to express a thought without quoting or paraphrasing Homer Simpson? Probably even this one...

The second law of Godwyn?

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237138)

You realize that Homer Simpson has said everything, right? And that it's no longer possible to express a thought without quoting or paraphrasing Homer Simpson?

'Then there are some things you never hear. That makes sense, some things you never hear. You never hear this, "dad, you really ought to drink more."
Here's something you don't hear too often. "Do what you want to the girl, but leave me alone."
Here is something no one has ever heard ever. Ever. "As soon as I put this hot poker in my ass, I'm going to chop my dick off." You know why you never heard that? Right! No one ever said that. Which to me is the more amazing thing; no one ever thought to say that before tonight. I'm the first person in the world put those words together in that particular order. First guy. Number one.
Here's something you don't hear too often. "Honey, let's sell the children, move to Zanzibar and begin taking opium rectally."
"Mom, mom I got a big date tonight. Can I borrow a French tickler from you?" '

    - George Carlin

See? Homer never said any of that!

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34242670)

Well, maybe he hasn't said any of that on camera... but we only see a small window of his life. Do I have to explain everything?

PS - that was some funny shit, right there. Thanks for the laugh.

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236140)

Or a miniaturized RTG battery, with an half-life of 87.7 years you should be ok !

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236392)

I did a little research
the best miniature RTG are currently producing 300 W cm3 they to so at 350mV so a 10cm3 device could give 3mW you could use this to charge an ultra cap and power a device like an e Ink reader for about 80 years |

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236806)

The thermocouples wear out before the decay source does.

And then you run into problems like people selling the lead shielding for scrap, and leaving the pu or sr90 or whatnot to rot. And this is with big, expensive ones. Do not want.

Re:Thermodynamics (2, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236208)

either they finally created a perpetual motion machine

Those have actually been around for ages.

See: Children

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237186)

Those have actually been around for ages.

See: Children

Pft. I keep hearing that, but, after several rounds of controlled experiments, I've found that the reality fails to live up to the hype. You stop feeding the little bastards for a measly week, and they get all weak and useless on ya. Never mind what happens when you take away water.

RTFA (1, Flamebait)

copponex (13876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236214)

It uses a tiny solar cell, like a calculator. If you have some form of light, you have a computer.

Palem says the I-slate is the first of a series of electronic notepads being built around a new class of low-energy-consumption microchips under development with Switzerland's Center for Electronics and Microtechnology. The team says the chips will allow the I-slate to run on solar power from panels similar to those used in hand-held calculators.

If you aren't going to read the articles posted to slashdot, may I ask why you are bothering to come here in the first place? Did they run out of rabble at the local Tea Party meeting inside the Chuck-E-Cheese?

Re:RTFA (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236260)

Solar cells dont work without an external source of power.

RTFC (5, Insightful)

copponex (13876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236374)

This perfectly illustrates why the nerd pedantry is lonely, angry, and ignored. People with lives understand "requires no external power supply" to mean "doesn't have to be plugged in." Instead of accepting this, a few people have decided to ignore the hard work of these people to bring revolutionary educational tools into the hands of poor rural children, and quibble about thermodynamics.

From the top and bottom of my heart, please fuck off. The adults are doing useful things. Leave them to it.

Re:RTFC (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236454)

:S My nerd pedantry went the opposite way with it. I assumed that they meant no external power supply. As in, no brick midway down your laptop cord. And I thought wow, what a prissy bitch. Putting a large heat generator inside the computer when it doesn't have to be is stupid. Just leave the damn thing as part of the power cable and get over it.

Though they need to have the brick-laptop cable be standardized and detachable. They break all the time and you generally have to replace the whole brick to fix it which is a horrific waste. Especially when the brick-wall part of the cord is detachable and never ever breaks. While they are at it make the actual connection to the computer standardized too.

Re:RTFC (1)

Cylix (55374) | more than 3 years ago | (#34238236)

The cables frey and wear from being improperly stored.

I've seen many people tightly wind the cable around the brick and put a good deal of tension on the portion which is attached to the power brick. I've successfully trained several sales people to carefully wrap their cables up leaving a good deal of slack as to not stress the cable. That little nugget kept them from replacing their bricks until the end of life on the laptops. It had the secondary benefit of teaching them to take care of their equipment at home. Just one of the many benefits of bunking the engineer next to the sales team.

Re:RTFC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236456)

Oh yeah, this good-hearted adult people that created a completely useless, obsolete piece of technology that helps getting money inside their pockets. People from the developed always think they can solve other people's problems without even getting to know the real problems. But of course, they can make a profit out of it. I stick with the nerds...

Re:RTFC (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236548)

Oh yeah, this good-hearted adult people that created a completely useless, obsolete piece of technology that helps getting money inside their pockets. People from the developed always think they can solve other people's problems without even getting to know the real problems. But of course, they can make a profit out of it. I stick with the nerds...

Um, I'm pretty sure it was nerds who built the thing. But they're nerds who actually want to do something, instead of just trying to score points off other people. You may sneer at the idea of making a profitable product that is also useful, but it's a hell of a lot better way to spend your time than sitting around making comments that you think make you look smart but serve only to show the world what a jackass you are.

GPP is right: nerd pedantry like OP's is a large part of what gives nerds a bad name in the first place, and it stands in the way of the nerds who make the modern world work being recoginized for their very real achievements.

Re:RTFC (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237126)

GPP is right: nerd pedantry like OP's is a large part of what gives nerds a bad name in the first place, and it stands in the way of the nerds who make the modern world work being recoginized for their very real achievements.

Without the pedantry, we wouldn't be nerds at all, would we?

Without the incessant need to demonstrate our superiority by pointing out the foibles of others, we'd just be geeks.

And I'm sorry, "News for Geeks" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "News for nerds".

Along that same line of thought -- if honest, non-pedant discussion of interesting technology and deeds is what you're looking for, slashdot is not the place for you. It is, after all, news for nerds, not news for innovators.

Re:RTFC (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#34238886)

Well, as I've said before, "There's nothing dorkier than a bunch of nerds and geeks arguing over the proper definition of a dweeb." IOW, I think the argument over what distinguishes geeks from nerds, etc., is a fundamentally silly one -- they're all slang terms without strict definitions, and the main reason "news for nerds" has more of a ring than "news for geeks" is the alliteration in the former.

That being said, I've had plenty of "honest, non-pedant discussion of interesting technology and deeds" here on Slashdot, and I expect to continue doing so. Actually, that kind of discussion is the norm. It's just that sometimes, the discussion gets hijacked by the kind of anoraks who give the rest of us nimrods such a bad name. There's no reason that, when that happens, we shouldn't try to keep our fellow wonks in line.

Re:RTFC (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34240754)

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I'm not your fellow wonk. I'm a mechanical engineer who values practicality over technicalities, but I don't let them stop me from a light hearted joke.

You on the other hand would do well to put your self righteousness aside.

Re:RTFC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236478)

The adults are doing useful things. Leave them to it.

OLPC's biggest gift to 3rd world countries is the free access to porn they now have. As it turns out, giving laptops to kids doesn't make them any smarter.

Re:RTFC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236482)

It's the same way at any website where they allow the public to make comments.
Everybody thinks they're a comedian; the Internet doesn't change that.

Re:RTFC (1)

TheScreenIsnt (939701) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236704)

Here here. The arrogance-to-usefulness ratio around here is getting tough to stomach. The more focused one is on scoring cleverness points, the fewer available cycles there are to actually get things done. Now, back to work... for the underprivileged.

Re:RTFC (2, Insightful)

wondafucka (621502) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236758)

This perfectly illustrates why the nerd pedantry is lonely, angry, and ignored. People with lives understand "requires no external power supply" to mean "doesn't have to be plugged in." Instead of accepting this, a few people have decided to ignore the hard work of these people to bring revolutionary educational tools into the hands of poor rural children, and quibble about thermodynamics.

From the top and bottom of my heart, please fuck off. The adults are doing useful things. Leave them to it.

Although I wholeheartedly agree with you, I thought that posting on slashdot _was_ leaving them to it. You think anyone who actually gets stuff done reads this stuff? (ducks)

Re:RTFC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236798)

OK, cool. Now we just need a network for these folks with no power. Oh, and go teach them to read so they can fucking use the thing.

Re:RTFC (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237300)

You're the one who needs to fuck off. Needing the external power supply, the sun, means this thing will be mostly useless for months in 3rd world places such as my wife's country while it's cloudy and/or raining buckets. But something with a 220VAC 50 Hz plug would function in most schools.

Reality is a bitch, and technical and engineering types deal with reality.

Re:RTFC (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237548)

Reality is a bitch, and technical and engineering types deal with reality.

It's a good thing you're not an engineer.

Photovoltaics do not require direct sunlight, or specifically sunlight at all, in order to function. That's why calculators work inside of buildings without windows. As for this device, I don't know how much power it requires, but I wouldn't be surprised if they designed it so it would operate with the power provided by a kerosene lamp or other type of fire.

Again, please fuck off, and leave all that tough thinking to the adults. Your childish hubris and adolescent lack of self-doubt, a prerequisite for any real engineer, is quite useless out there in the real world.

Re:RTFC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34239864)

But the adults aren't grown up enough to understand thermodynamics.

Re:RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34239178)

I will underline your point by switching off the sun. Give me a second.

Re:RTFA (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236312)

Most intelligent beings consider our sun, Sol, to be the largest external power supply we have access to.

It, and other stars like it are in fact as far as we know the only sources of usable power that exist to humans.

Without sunlight there is no fossil fuels, no hydro power, obviously no solar cell/boiler power. Even nuclear reactors get their power from things born during the death of larger stars.

If you have a solar cell, you are using an external power source and wireless transmission, but none the less you are using an external power source.

If you aren't going to read the articles posted to slashdot, may I ask why you are bothering to come here in the first place?

Why the fuck are you on slashdot if you don't realize when people are making a point about technicalities rather than practicalities.

Technically it has an external power supply even if from a practical perspective, it doesn't have one (no cord).

Re:Thermodynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236218)

No external power supply they say, well then, either they finally created a perpetual motion machine, or they're getting the energy from some external power supply.

Well, they're halfway towards having no external power supply. They've got it running on solar power. Now all they have to do is move the sun to inside the device.

Re:Thermodynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236372)

Then people will argue it's not really a tablet but a Dyson Sphere.

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236236)

I assume the idea is a Kindle-y tablet with a battery inside (like most tablets) and a solar panel on the back (unlike most tablets). To charge the thing you just lay it down outside, with the solar panel pointed up.

Re:Thermodynamics (2, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236476)

Okay, seriously, why does pedantry like this get modded up? Anyone who takes even a cursory glance at the summary understands what "no external power supply" means in this context, and it's a perfectly good phrase for what they're describing. There was nothing insightful about OP's comment, just oh-look-how-smart-I-am snark.

Re:Thermodynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236934)

And feeding trolls is helpful in what way?

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236892)

Interesting. Theoretically, energy (actually, an increase in entropy) is only required to discard information, ie clearing memory. Whilst this does limit the actual "computation" possible, a single-state machine can still contain a lot of information. Fair enough, nothing will change without a power source, but that's just an interface problem....

Re:Thermodynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34237270)

Interesting. Theoretically, energy (actually, an increase in entropy) is only required to discard information, ie clearing memory.

While that might be true that idea is as far as I know only a way to protect thermodynamics from Maxwells demon.
I have never heard any plausible theory to why information by itself should require energy to be discarded other than to protect thermodynamics. This more or less puts it in the circle reasoning category.
While I don't find it likely that someone will build an perpetual motion machine anytime soon I also do not like to use any kind of crackpot concept to protect a theory that may still be proven wrong.

Re:Thermodynamics (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237624)

Sure, if you define "external power supply" as an "external power source".

Not if they defined "external power supply" as something you need to plug in/or replace on the device. And hence a bog standard solar panel would remove the need for one.

The Sun (2, Insightful)

xerio (1001881) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236216)

Wouldn't that kind of count as an external power supply?

Re:The Sun (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236554)

And an unreliable one.

Only works a few hours a day, and only on days it's not raining.

Re:The Sun (1)

Dan541 (1032000) | more than 3 years ago | (#34239868)

Plus it requires us to leave the basement.

Re:The Sun (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34242018)

Very few have left the basement, and most of them were nerds. It's damned hard to leave the basement, what with the gravity well and all. At least we have that nice fusion lamp and the reflector night light.

An appeal is a non starter (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236254)

But there's a certain heart-strings appeal to such a computer intended as an educational tool for precisely those kind of places where basic infrastructure (like the provision of electricity) is a stumbling block.

That appeal will remain just that: An appeal, which sadly delivers no results in most cases.

Induct power through the phone's Vibrator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236256)

All phones have a motor that is used as an off-balance Vibrator for when Ringtone is unnecessary.

Why not just turn that motor in reverse using a large wheel of transfering energy at differing rations? That would make sense because then someone can turn the motor backwards for 30 minutes to talk for 10 minutes on a modern phone from Apple or Microsoft; while us remaining Motorolla phone owners of a C** could've turned it for an equal amount of talk time. I have my Washing Machine as well as APC UPS tied into my stationary bicycle generator and redundant power station below it's roof-top Solar panels and outside Briggs & Stratton motor, so why not give something redundant for our non-CB network-locked tranceivers? It's bad enough that we are forced to encrypt our Cell Phone transmissions from the SIM Card while the Network allows non-encrypted transmittion as to facilitate both analog and digital Cell Phones.

Re:Induct power through the phone's Vibrator (2, Interesting)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236340)

Seiko does something like this with their watches. However, afaik, they use a pendulum to gather the vibrational energy.

The English have done that for 2100 years already. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34238840)

They put a Grandfather clock on a boat to use a system of bladders so the wake of the rocking motion is uniform to keep accurate time in motion. It even self-rewinds, so I guess that makes it an over-balanced Grandfather clock and the first of it's kind at that, far before Squatloos or whomever of the Mayans and their giant saucer-cog sundial they used to navigate and record waypoint time.

USB charger dynamos (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236298)

Given that they might be flooded with used phones and probably first-gen smartphones soon, perhaps something that can charge USB phones would be in order...

http://www.google.com/search?q=bicycle+USB+dynamo&hl=en&tbs=shop%3A1&aq=f [google.com]

Would love to play with some of that stuff, but those currently cost more than my cheap-ass bike :-P Should be neat if they could develop some cheap dynamos to distribute where they would need it, though. They also have bikes with full kickstands that elevate the rear wheel so you can pedal while stationary... could generate a couple hundred Watts that way...

EASY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236334)

Etch-a-Sketh.

Re:EASY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236422)

I meant SKETCH, goddammit.

Why embedded? (4, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236416)

It doesn't make much sense to me to embed mechanical / solar / whatever power sources directly into these sorts of products. This is especially true for mechanical power sources, like a crank. That should be in an extremely ergonomic external form factor that a person can operate comfortably, without risking dropping their laptop / tablet, or accidentally flinging it across the room.

Same with solar. That needs to be in a waterproof form factor that can be left laying on the ground or roof in the rain without being destroyed.

A family with two or more devices could get by with just one solar charger, or better yet, one solar and one mechanical, to give them more charging options.

When I was a kid I had one of those little generators that was rotated by my front tire, which powered a little headlight. Something like that could be used with any bicycle to generate relatively massive amounts of power (compared to a hand crank). A very simple stand (home made or otherwise) to get the back tire up off the floor and they're ready to do some serious charging.

Re:Why embedded? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236576)

Or we could dam up the river and attach a wheel to the falling water and hook up some rotating permanent magnets and...

Re:Why embedded? (1)

espiesp (1251084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236654)

Or we could start cutting down and digging up flammable substances to burn in a boiler which creates steam to turn a wheel that are attached to some rotating permanent magnets and...

Re:Why embedded? (1)

Squeeself (729802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34239600)

I agree, don't embed these things. If they're separate, they can power multiple devices, thus bringing the overall cost down (needs less power gen devices per consumption devices). For example, the merry-go-round power generators that I heard about some people installing a couple years ago is a brilliant idea that can power quite a bit for cheap.

Solar Calculator (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236448)

I had a solar powered calculator back in the early 90's. You can't tell me we don't have low powered computers today that do more than that on nothing more than the sun. ...so where are they?

Sounds nice until you think. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236518)

Solar power for these laptops sounds spiffy.

That is, until you think about it a bit.

(1) Poor places do not have classrooms with lots of windows. You need direct light perpendicular to the panel to
get any kind of power out.

(2) A 5-watt solar panel, of the cheaper amorphous variety, enough to keep up with the laptop's drain, is considerably larger than the laptop,
so it's not going to be built-into the lid.

(3) The cost of solar-generated electricity is still mighty high. Okay in a rich country, not so ok in a poor one.

(4) The initial capital outlay could easily be 20% of the cost of the laptop.

Re:Sounds nice until you think. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236746)

(2) A 5-watt solar panel, of the cheaper amorphous variety, enough to keep up with the laptop's drain, is considerably larger than the laptop,
so it's not going to be built-into the lid.

Skip the amorphous, if it was about cheap electricity, we'd send them a honda generator and be done with it.

http://www.batterystuff.com/solar-chargers/SP-5.html [batterystuff.com]

8 inches on a side is too big? At a glance you can see its not exactly built to minimize surface area, I bet we could get this dude down to 50 sq inches if we tried a little bit. That would be re-arranged into 10 inches wide by 5 inches tall. Not a big deal.

Since we're trying to be green for the sake of being green, as opposed to economically sensible, theres no reason not to make the laptop extremely large and/or fold out panels.

Re:Sounds nice until you think. (2, Insightful)

espiesp (1251084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236770)

(1) Poor places often do not have class-ROOMs at all. They teach students outside in the dirt. Literally.

(2) With ultra-low power hardware, e-ink screens, your requirements are lowered. Plus, the idea isn't to be able to power in real time but rather charge then use.

(3) Yes, solar-panels are too expensive to power US-scale standards of living. But still cheaper than building a full-scale coal or nuclear powered plant + infastructure to houses, err I mean SHACKS, just so these people can experience some technology. Though the bicycle powered dynamo concept is pretty good and cheap cheap cheap to build. Bikes are usually not hard to find in third world countries. On the other hand, food and clean water might be less available. Thus using up both to pedal a bike may not be ideal. Of course, the big obvious point here is in a country that can't feed itself why the fuck do they need a ebook reader/computer tablet...

(4) I agree here. It's not cheap to create a product like this out of thin air. But there are some benefits for the trouble:

(1) 100% self contained. Zero infrastructure needed.
(2) No external ports are needed, making a water/dust proof device easier and thus the end result is a more durable piece.
(3) Fringe benefits from the ultra-low-power research needed to build something like this.
(4) Increased production of Small/Efficient solar cells can hopefully drive cost down if the materials aren't in short supply...

Re:Sounds nice until you think. (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237152)

(1) 100% self contained. Zero infrastructure needed.

Bull. You always want it to be that way, but there always is. I say this having worked on more than one rural low-power computing project. You may not need power for the tablet (though you do - see below), but you still need power and wiring etc. for the network gear, the storage devices, the projector, etc., etc., etc.

(2) No external ports are needed, making a water/dust proof device easier and thus the end result is a more durable piece.

It's trivially easy to seal a power/USB/whatever receptacle. The OLPC XO laptop does it just fine. I've dropped one of those under water and had it working just fine within seconds.

Given the liability created by depending on sunlight (monsoon season, anyone?), the benefits of an external plug (and better still, a removable battery) are immense. Whatever risk they create for the device is far outweighed by their usefulness.

(3) Fringe benefits from the ultra-low-power research needed to build something like this.

This is true. The main challenge for the developing world is learning not to consume like North Americans. Amazingly, most development agencies don't get this. They think that growth and development means, 'Be exactly like us.'

(4) Increased production of Small/Efficient solar cells can hopefully drive cost down if the materials aren't in short supply...

I'd agree to a lesser degree, but I think point (3) is the critical one in this whole exercise.

Re:Sounds nice until you think. (1)

espiesp (1251084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34238200)

Bull. You always want it to be that way, but there always is. I say this having worked on more than one rural low-power computing project. You may not need power for the tablet (though you do - see below), but you still need power and wiring etc. for the network gear, the storage devices, the projector, etc., etc., etc.

Projector? Network Gear? Storage Devices? What are these for? You're thinking too classically. There is no reason why the devices themselves can not act on all these.

Example Scenario for basic usability:

In this example, we assume extremely low penetration of western technology. No or very unreliable power grid, so obviously no phone, no internet. Just some shacks and some folks (whether these are missionaries or whatever) trying to bring some education. They bring with them the ability to generate electricity more effectively, and perhaps satellite internet, as well as non-cloud electronic data - in addition to these solar tablets.

The 'missionaries' become the hub. The can wirelessly transmit, (using low power, low bandwidth technologies perhaps not yet invented or a low power subset of Wifi that only works ~30ft?), from their more traditional notebook information during class. Whatever the subject. Some light pictures. Mostly text.

They can use this as a virtual projector. The data stays with the device until storage becomes a problem. The students can take the device with them. Share the knowledge. Study the material. Take notes. ETC ETC. Without their particular village/shack needing ANYTHING other than the device.

And we're also assuming that the device is so ultra-low power that it can last several days minimum of moderage usage on a full charge. Looking at modern e-book readers which can be used on the order of weeks per charge (and hit a very attractive price point already) I see no reason why this is not practical.

But for the sake of argument lets assume they lived in a northern region that has very little sunlight for some part of the year, or an area with a rainy season.

My proposed solution is using an inductive charging station. It's not as efficient as a plug but then we are assuming in this scenario that the missionaries have a generator of some sort with them or that there is some available power grid in which to use a charger - even if not in their personal home.

Granted, a lot of assumptions. But in order to be cheaper and better than what modern technology has to offer you have to be able to look outside the box. Network gear? What's that? Projector, who needs it?

I mostly agree with you on all other points.

Re:Sounds nice until you think. (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34238530)

The can wirelessly transmit, (using low power, low bandwidth technologies perhaps not yet invented or a low power subset of Wifi that only works ~30ft?), from their more traditional notebook information during class.

... And these need power cables and external power sources.

I rest my case. 8^)

Trust me, I've been down this road over a dozen times in the last 7 years working in ICT4D. It's one thing to aim for low power. That's a commendable and essential goal. (One which modern technology vendors don't take nearly seriously enough.)

It's another thing entirely to think that you can operate entirely off the grid, or more to the point, that you can rely on any one source of power generation. Experience has taught me that this is a deadly assumption.

I've seen a long string of innovative answers to the same problems. Some of them work, but never as elegantly and as simply as you want them to. The bottom line is that ugly hacks rule, and that means being able to adjust to differing conditions on the fly and staying away from the bleeding edge.

And, by the by, I am the opposite of a 'classical thinker'. Go read my blog [imagicity.com] if you want to see someone ranting at length and in detail about the perils of applying the computing patterns of the developed world onto the less developed parts. I am a huge fan of appropriate technology. But my main criterion is that it has to work.

Finally, don't get me started about missionaries. I have yet to see an instance where they did more good than harm. Christian fundamentalism is fragmenting this country's social fabric. You want to help? Just help and keep your opinions to yourself.

If only iPads ran on wishes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236568)

Were you an Art History major in college, sir?

Toilet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236644)

Did anyone read this as,

"toilet prototype needs no external power supply"?

Tandy TRS-80 model 100 (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236656)

My father's TRS-80 model 100 ran for about 50 to 100 hours on a set of off the shelf AA batteries.

If you assume the device will be "hopelessly" obsolete in 2 years, or half of them will be destroyed in accidents in 2 years, and maybe it only gets used a couple hours per week, and a modern device with a crude enough display technology might only draw a tenth the power, maybe a very large couple pound lithium battery could power a tablet for its useful life.

Re:Tandy TRS-80 model 100 (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34237178)

If you assume the device will be "hopelessly" obsolete in 2 years

For people with more money than they should, possibly. For everyone else, and especially in developing countries, stuff is used until it breaks, then repaired and reused for some years more.
While repairing tablets is "somewhat" more difficult than boomboxes, two years is nothing. In many cases, computers used in those places are already more than two years old when they get there.

Batteries included (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34236788)

Lots of devices have no external power supply, you just go out and buy more AA batteries.

hrm (4, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236790)

I think this is rather typical of the western world. The idea that 3rd world countries do not have any access to electricity is just silly. I've recently been to the heart of Ethiopia to adopt a child and if there's one thing they had plenty of it was electricity. Not a lot of food, or clean water... Gas was $8 a liter and they were living in thatched roof, mud huts. But there was electricity all over the place. The rats nests of electrical wire strung, sometimes, from tree to tree was a testament to this. I have no idea how the entire country hadn't burst into flame already but their electrical grid did fail from time to time... but not nearly as often as you'd expect it to. I have to admit I have a lot of respect for whomever keeps the electricity flowing, they must be a McGuiver style genius.

What they did lack was Linux. Every PC I saw there (and there were very few) had a pirated copy of WinXP on it, with the WGA notice popping up constantly and was filled with Malware. Had their dialup modems been able to connect at any speed greater than 9k I would have fixed it for them but in the end I just gave up.

Re:hrm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34238490)

I've recently been to the heart of Ethiopia to adopt a child

Well I never... Madonna has a Slashdot account.

Seriously though, there are plenty of orphaned and disadvantaged kids in your own country that need adopting. Working on the basis that one child's life is as valuable as any other, what possible reason do you have for adopting from abroad? Except for the celebrity-a-like cachet and the air-miles of course.

Re:hrm (2, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34240620)

How ethnocentric of you. I'll bullet point it for your moronic ass:

- We used the largest agency in our state. They did a grand total of 35 local minority adoptions last year. The had a total of 5 "white baby" adoptions. People have abortions now, they don't put them up for adoption.
- My wife and I are of modest means and are in our late 30's. Adoptive parents have hundreds of prospective parents to chose from. They chose based on 2 things: Money and Youth. We have neither.
- International adoptions have limits based on the country you are adopting from. Some based on how long you've been married, others on how old you are, others on your race, etc... Due to these we qualified for 3 programs. Russia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. The Russian program would have cost us over $100k, the Guatamalan program was shut down at the time (that happens quite frequently) Finally the Ethiopian program we qualified for, but my wife would age out in just a few years.
- Our options were wait in the "White baby" line, which I found completely racist. Wait in the minority line and have little, to no chance of finding a child and possibly age out of the international process, adopt internationally, or adopt a teenager.
- ALL babies in the US are adopted. Babies in other countries DIE if they aren't adopted. My son would be dead today if we or someone else hadn't adopted him and he's a great kid. He deserves to live.

So now, why don't you take your ignorant, uninformed opinions and shove them up your motherfucking ass.

Re:hrm (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34243420)

Not all kids in the US get adopted. I'm not sure why you think that. However we don't leave them to die.

Interesting anecdote, but my friends are in there forties and recently adopted a Chinese child with little problem. The aren't rich, but they do make 100K +.

And no, not all babies in other countries die if they aren't adopted, stop being so dramatic.

Re:hrm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34240892)

I've recently been to the heart of Ethiopia to adopt a child

You Sir, have earned my complete respect.

A computer powered computer? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34236918)

What about a computer that is powered by inducing current in wires by sliding a set of magnets back and forth?

Configure the magnets and wires such that they resemble an abacus and presto: Computer powered computer.

Up next:
A vehicle powered vehicle (electric bicycle that charges when you pedal),
Toast powered Toaster (burns bread to heat bread),
etc...

But can you power it with hair? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34238286)

Surely someone in a third-world environment could make a hair-powered solar battery?
(ref to previous India-boy-makes-solar-cell)

That's the real trick, isn't it (2, Informative)

steveha (103154) | more than 3 years ago | (#34238470)

Perhaps built-in solar makes more sense, in more places, than the hand-cranked power

Perhaps it does, perhaps it does! If, that is, you can build the device such that it can run off of built-in solar. That's the real trick, isn't it.

A simple four-function calculator trivially can run of a little photocell, and this has been true for decades. So why didn't OLPC simply put a little photocell on the XO-1? Because a little cheap photocell doesn't produce anywhere near the needed power needed by an XO-1.

And, the hand-cranked power is a particularly irritating straw man. A long, long, time ago, when OLPC was just an idea, they thought about a hand crank, and even made a mockup of what it might look like. But it was never made. Reasons: 0) some kids live in places with a decent electrical grid, so there is no need to add the cost of a generator to every single laptop; 1) an external generator can be trivially replaced if it breaks, without the laptop itself needing to be repaired; 2) a crank built-in to the laptop adds mechanical cranking strain on the laptop, necessitating the laptop being made sturdy in otherwise-needless ways; and 3) little kids are not known for their arm strength, so a generator that could be operated by leg muscles was deemed better. OLPC announced that a pull-cord generator would be the human powered generator, but as far as I can tell from a few quick Google searches just now, the pull-cord generator is still vapor.

I recently sent my XO-1 to India for use by the Bharti Integrated Rural Development Society [birds-india.com]
(B.I.R.D.S.) and I looked into a solar array for it. I found one for about $200 that should operate an XO-1 continuously and charge the battery in about an hour. I also found lots of other solar arrays that cost way more than that. So, the most affordable solar array I found cost more than the XO-1. As I understand it, the B.I.R.D.S. school has electrical power only when they run their generator, which is a few hours a day, so my hope is that the XO-1 will be useful just with the generator power. (Conveniently, the power supply on an XO-1 accepts any AC from 100 to 240 Volts, at 50 or 60 Hz, so they should be able to just plug it in with a plug adapter.)

Note that TFA says "...the I-slate is the first of a series of electronic notepads being built around a new class of low-energy-consumption microchips under development...". So, one of the reasons the OLPC XO-1 isn't powered with a little solar array is that it was developed half a decade ago, and the new ultra-low-power chips are, well, new.

Isn't it enough to say "This is a cool new technology and I'm excited about it" rather than talking about how much better it is compared to a half-decade-old technology?

P.S. I put an 8 GB flash card in the SD card slot on the XO-1. On the card I put a copy of Wikipedia for Schools [schools-wikipedia.org], which takes up about 4 GB; then I put some health and medical books [hesperian.org] and a bunch of classic fiction books (for students to read when studying English). I updated the OS on the OLPC to the latest build, and installed a typing tutor program (Typing Turtle) from Sugar Labs [sugarlabs.org]. I found a public-domain copy of The Elements of Style [bartleby.com] and a few other free textbooks. Finally, I put a few books on Python Programming. I haven't had any email back from B.I.R.D.S. telling me anything, so I have no idea how it's working out.

I have to say, an XO-1 loading books straight off an SD card is a pretty nice book reading platform! And with the backlight off, to read books in monochrome, battery life should be pretty good. I'm hoping they will find the XO-1 to be useful.

steveha

Re:That's the real trick, isn't it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34238734)

...and it will cost you something extra?

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