If you didn’t have an opportunity to visit us at the ARPA-E showcase this week, you’ve still got another chance to see something very special in action. At tonight’s MIT Energy Showcase, TechBridge portfolio company Ubiquitous Energy will be at our booth giving hands-on demonstrations of ClearView Power™, a film that uses solar photovoltaics (PV) to greatly extend the battery life of e-readers and tablets – in some cases indefinitely so.
The idea of unlimited battery life on a mobile device is a nice thought; no more worrying about whether you have the right charger, no more fussing around with connectors and adapters if you are heading out of the country.
There are plenty of attachable chargers and eternal batteries already on the market, but they are relatively expensive, and cumbersome to carry around. More recently, companies have started looking at integrating PV directly into a protective case, but from a user perspective, there’s something a little weird about just leaving your tablet sitting in front of a window while you’re not using it.
Ubiquitous takes a different approach, putting PV directly on a device screen via a special molecular power film. This means that the device is charged while you’re using it. The ClearView™ film is transparent in the visible part of the light spectrum, and absorbs in the near-infrared to generate energy. The first prototypes have a very light tint, barely noticeable on E Ink readers like the Kindle, although it’ll take a bit more tinkering if Apple wants to get it into their Retina Displays.
The amount of energy generated by the film depends on how much near-infrared light there is for the film to harvest. For the best performance, beach reading is ideal; indoors under fluorescent lighting less so. But that doesn’t mean you need to be staring down the sun to catch a charge – ClearView™ can work in diffuse light, or even in the shade.
Solar chargers are a novel application for a technology most folks still think of as belonging on a rooftop, and many of the concerns and questions that surround PV technology simply don’t apply here. Normally, you would ask about conversion efficiency – how much of the light received is actually turned into electricity – but if you do the math, it turns out you don’t need much juice for many devices. A film with 2% efficiency already gets you pretty far on an e-reader like the Nook.
What about the price point? ClearView™ targets users who are already used to paying up to $50 for an iPad charging accessory, giving them a fair bit of wiggle room. I recently paid $15 just for the wire needed to connect to the outlet (and at the rate I keep losing them, it won’t be the last $15 I spend, either). How long does it last? Solar modules are expected to survive fifteen to twenty years in the field, but show me an electronic device that you still use on a regular basis three years after you first bought it.
Is it durable enough? By integrating it directly into your tablet, Ubiquitous has already ensured that you’ll be treating your ClearView™ with the utmost care – none of the long nights out in the rain or ongoing freeze-thaw cycles your average solar module is expected to survive.
If all this still sounds too good to be true, why not see for yourself? The Showcase runs from 5 to 8 PM at the Boston Park Plaza Castle; admission is free, and is open to all members of the public. We’ll see you there!
A version of this article also appeared at bostinno.com.