Power on the Go!

5 09 2007

Steve Wheeler is attending the M-Learning sessions at the ALT-C conference along with a few other edubloggers, and recounted one of the issues they explored in their session on “Tensions Between Personal Space and Social Space”:

By far the most important issue for our small group was the problem of finding somewhere to top up your battery when it goes flat. How could this be achieved…?

One method an educator could already employ is the use of the portable power pack. These are essentially a portable, large capacity battery, usually with a couple of outlets for dispensing power for various devices (the largest models are capable of powering a laptop for several hours) including USB ports which are capable of recharging most mobile electronics. However, these can be somewhat heavy and bulky – about the size of a large external hard drive unit – and therefore somewhat contrary to the idea of mobility!

I recently purchased three very small, portable and cheap mobile power units which I can recommend to other mobile educators. The units are powered by rechargable AAA batteries, and can be recharged themselves by plugging them into a USB port (the unit becomes a AAA battery recharger… neat!). They each dispense sufficient power to fully recharge several mobile phones (or PDAs) to full capacity; and should even this capacity prove insufficient, normal AAA batteries could be used to replace the rechargable ones, providing additional power.

The units are tiny – only slightly larger than four AAA batteries side-by-side; and each unit (minus batteries) costs less than $10, including shipping, from this site: http://dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.3205
. For the greatest capacity, I’d recommend using good-quality 950mAh
rechargable Ni-MH batteries, which would provide a total potential power capacity of almost 4000 mAh.

There’s also a bit of an additional gimmick – there’s a built in LED flashlight in each unit, so it doubles as a long-duration torch. Illuminating stuff indeed. 🙂

There are also solar-powered versions of this portable-power concept. This model, for example, has two USB ports (and could thus be used to charge two mobile devices simultaneously).

Main Product Picture - click to enlarge
Click for full-size view

However, these solar models generally take several hours to recharge an internally-sealed battery. This is why I think a rechargeable power source with easily-replacable batteries is more flexible and reliable for most situations.

If anyone else has ideas on how to ensure mobile learners can power their devices on the go, I’d be very keen to hear from you! Please post your comments! 🙂

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5 responses

5 09 2007
Bengt

Probably there will be supercapacitators for smaller use than cars maybe….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercapacitor

5 09 2007
Leonard Low

Indeed – supercapacitor technology is making good inroads towards providing high capacity portable power supplies.

Unfortunately, there are just a couple of hurdles still to cross before supercapactitor technology becomes useful as a portable power supply. One is energy density: in a super/ultracapacitor, the amount of energy stored per unit weight is considerably lower than that of an electrochemical battery (3-5 Wh/kg for an ultracapacitor compared to 30-40 Wh/kg for a battery).

Furthermore, current super/ultracapcitors are useful for high rates of charge/discharge, but less useful for providing sustained power. Basically, supercapacitors are good as a temporary storage of high power, but seem less useful in situations where a sustained current is required, in the absence of intermittent recharging.

However, if these technical obstacles can be overcome, one of the huge benefits of supercapacitors is that they can be recharged very, very quickly indeed. One day, recharging a mobile device to full capacity may take seconds, rather than hours as it often does today!

6 09 2007
Martin

thanks for the hints .. i have already ordered it to provide my nokia n96 with more engergy 🙂 ..

nice greetings from austria

7 09 2007
Steve Wheeler

This is really useful information Leonard. Seems like an old solution – I remember the days (sounding ancient now…) when videocamera users had to wear battery belts… At least battery technology has moved on and economies of scale mean they are fairly cheap as well as small. Good blog mate!

9 09 2007
James Clay

How about a Kwik-E-Charge – phone-charging pod?

http://www.shinyshiny.tv/2006/01/ces_2006_kwikec.html

These chargepods are popping up all over the Far East, where battery-challenged folk can hook up their phone (or laptop, PDA, digital camera etc), insert a coin and fill the dead gizmo with life. It’s basically a petrol pump for gadgets.

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