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2/27/2014
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Solar-Powered Wearable Tech Lightens Marines' Loads

US Marines use backpack-mounted solar panels developed by the Office of Naval Research to fuel battery-powered gear in the battlefield.
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Whether you wear your technology or carry it with you, one thing doesn't change: the need to keep your electronic gear charged.

That presents a special problem for US troops moving into remote areas. Packing extra batteries for their GPS equipment, radios, and night-vision goggles adds a lot of weight to packs that weigh 125 pounds or more. Relying on generators to recharge batteries brings another set of logistic challenges and requires a steady supply of fuel.

To address the problem, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) led the development of the Marine Austere Patrolling System (MAPS), which combines solar power and an individual water purifier to help lighten Marines' loads when they are in remote locations. The combination of functions makes sense; normally Marines sent on a mission also must carry their own water supplies, which adds to their burden.

"The Marine Corps currently uses two versions of its primary battery," a rechargeable and non-rechargeable lithium battery, said Capt. Frank Furman, logistics program manager for ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department. The batteries -- about the size and weight of a brick -- primarily power radios and other equipment, such as radio-frequency jamming devices used to combat radio-controlled IEDs, he said.

In addition, Marines carry GPS systems, night-vision goggles, and other equipment that require their own batteries. Furman said Marines on a 24-hour mission might need four batteries, but would carry eight to provide a margin of error.

Furman said his team "wants to bypass all those different batteries and power them off a single central battery. At the same time, we want to be able to charge that battery via a flexible [photovoltaic] panel," he said. "This would not only eliminate some of your battery needs, but eliminate your need to carry different types of spares."

The prototype design relies on a flexible solar panel roughly the size of a piece of paper, developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, and a new, more flexible battery "that offers similar performance but in a flatter package," he said. "Instead of a rigid brick strapped to your body, you have a flexible package that's much more ergonomically friendly."

In a recent field test with the 1st Battalion 5th Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, the wearable solar-powered system proved its worth when the Marines carrying the MAPS were the only ones whose radios still had power.

The MAPS program continues to undergo testing in the field to look for ways to improve the system. The Naval Research Laboratory and its vendors are refining the solar technology to improve their performance. Delve into our slideshow to take a closer look at the project.

(Image: US Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office)

Wyatt Kash contributed to this report.

 

Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/6/2014 | 8:32:51 AM
Re: promising
I'm in the same camp, I wouldn't bet the farm on solar as the only source of power for any solution but I do think that we are getting very close to the point where a couple different alternative sources will be able to charge or power small devices reliably.  I think it is important that companies don't back themselves into a corner by choosing a single source.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
3/5/2014 | 5:34:36 PM
Re: promising
No, I don't believe just solar will be the answer to our energy needs, but a combination of all the eco-friendly sources, including kinetic energy. But the way, last year I saw a video from a Chinese guy charging his iPhone with a bike using kinetic. Pretty amazing and of course, really handy.
 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/3/2014 | 9:04:54 AM
Re: promising
Do you think solar will be the answer completely or do you think kinetic charging of small flexible batteries will be part of the answer?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
3/3/2014 | 12:06:58 AM
promising
The solar power is promising but there is still far from perfect - its capacity is limited.

One might think that after more than 50 years of development, the solar power will be, although far from perfect, much more useful.

Charging from small things like tablets, laptops, smartphones to cars, airplanes, trains and boats.
You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. JL
Nor
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Nor,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2014 | 12:44:13 AM
Solar-Powered Wearable Tech Lightens Marines' Loads
Hi 

 See available new retail equipment at Canadaian Tire suitable for portable or transportatble application. At wilderness cottage with no a.c. power, two 15 w x solar panels on cottage roof, through a small controller, tickle charge two 12V marine or deep cycle batteries. This is enough to pwer cellular handhelds or walkie talkies or recharge them as required . New improved  similar units are rated at 20 watts. There are also smaller units available. Watch for sale prices--15W units now on clerance at about $55 Can, each. A gain antenna may also cut down battery drain.

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
3/1/2014 | 8:22:36 PM
Re: Solar chargers
The solar power is promising but there is still far from perfect - its capacity is limited. The small solar battery is not enough to drive even a smartphone. For the soldiers, they need to carry rather heavy solar power package in the battlefield. But I think a small solar charger would be good to have in case you do no have power socket nearby to charge your smartphone.:-)
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2014 | 7:37:52 PM
Re: Solar chargers
I would love a solar charged smartphone or tablet, or a laptop for that matter.
I wouldn't even mind a solar powered car either. Soon, very soon, I hope.


Did you guys realize the weight of the gear? I feel sorry for the people who needs to carry that, specially small women.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 8:47:38 PM
Re: Solar chargers
I'd probably use an external battery pack over a solar charger. Like Wyatt mentioned, solar chargers aren't that efficient (yet).
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 4:56:12 PM
Re: Solar chargers
I've tried a solar charger in the past, back in the day when FEMA were urging everyone to have a family emergency survival kit. It was painfully slow. The technology is definitely improving.  Hard to know what these units cost (they're still in protype), but I suspect it will be a while before the prices come down enough for consumers to consider buying one.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 2:52:01 PM
Solar chargers
Sometimes warrior tech trickles down to road warriors. How many of you would like a solar charger for your cell phone or tablet?
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