Wearable solar panels? Australian soldiers could have them in their uniforms in the near future.
From camouflage prints to combat boots, military "fashion" has a long history of infiltrating civilian trends, and a new eco-style about to be piloted by the Australian army may have similar success. Earlier this month, researchers at the Australian National University, working with the country's military, announced that they've created a wearable solar panel.
As soldiers add more electronics to their repertoire of tools—like GPS and night vision systems—figuring out how to charge all those gadgets quickly becomes a headache. Batteries are heavy, and every pound matters when you're trudging through mountains somewhere in scalding heat. But the cells used in the new panels "have the same thickness of a sheet of paper or a human hair," said Professor Andrew Blakers, chief investigator behind the wearable solar project. "This means they are flexible, lightweight, and allow high power-to-weight ratios to be achieved." An added bonus: the panels are designed to absorb light from both sides.
The researchers have outsourced production of the panels to the Idaho-based company Transform Solar, which should have a prototype ready by December. If all goes well, the Australian army hopes to start outfitting its soldiers with the new accessory within the next five years, so it might be a little while before the technology flows down to the civilian level. But someday the average person may be able to charge her iPhone with a solar purse.
Photo by Stuart Hay, courtesy of Australian National University