Freeplay Energy rocks. They're the company that makes hand-crank radios and lights, including the Lifeline hand-charged/solar radio for humanitarian workers. We've mentioned their products a few times, but their new device, the FreeCharge Weza, really stands out.
The FreeCharge is a portable power supply putting out 12V DC through a standard "cigarette lighter" style plug. It puts out enough power to jump-start a car or boat, but can also recharge most portable devices. But what's so cool about it is the way that you charge it:
You step on it.
More precisely, you use the "step treadle," meaning that you step up and down on it for a short while to bring the battery back up to full. If that doesn't sound fun, the Weza is designed to be charged with solar panels and small wind turbines (Freeplay recommends a 30 watt rating). You can even recharge it from a wall outlet, but that's cheating.
Downsides: no direct AC output, so you'll need an inverter of some kind to use typical electric/electronic devices with it; it's not cheap -- few of Freeplay's distributors carry the Weza, and the one that does (C. Crane) lists it for just under US$300; it's also not going to be in stock until March of 2006.
Even with these limits, Freeplay's first non-dedicated charger looks awfully attractive for well-off-the-grid use, and would be a good companion to a small photovoltaic system.
Maybe they could incorporate these things into exercise machinary so we could tap into all that wasted energy at gymnasiums and health clubs?
I love to see sophisticated machinery and profits.
But, my guess is this shouldn't be so difficult and we shouldn't have to wait until 2007.
What public domain designs are there that are close enough, so that "we" (I mean, you, those who know) can improve them just a little bit more?
Some further links:
This is not about efficiency (compared to other devices) but about grid independency in an urgency.
It's said Negroponte's $100 computer will have something of that sort.
Some people in the world need this sort of device right now!
It seems that they are producing more devices for a cleaner greener environment. Hopefully there are more to come out soon. Whos the Greenest, really? A Lady Driver's Point of View.
I recently ran across this:
Solar-powered charger for your iPod and cell phone. Pretty nifty.