Apr 252012
Authors: Kate Winkle

Imagine plugging your dying phone into your shirt to charge. For a world increasingly reliant on mobile electronic devices, the future of charging on the go is now.

A group of CSU professors and students teamed up to design solar panel-laced outdoor gear that includes three jackets and two helmets that allow the wearers to charge devices such as cell phones, GPS units, mp3 players and computers. The natural-fiber designs reduce the use of alkaline batteries and protect wearers from UV rays.

“Everyone these days has electronic devices they’re trying to keep up. They look for plugs everywhere, but (with these designs) there’s a free port on you that collects energy,” said Eulanda Sanders, associate professor for the Department of Design and Merchandising. “There’s more freedom to be out and about and active, and to not have to be plugged into a wall.”

In 2010, Sanders and Ajoy Sarkar, also an associate professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising, applied for and received a grants through the Environmental Protection Agency and the College of Applied Human Sciences to work on their budding project. They then brought on apparel design student Logan Garey as team leader and began compiling their current team of apparel design student Anna Rieder, merchandising student Jared Blumentritt, and engineering student Eric Gauck.

“We’ve had ups and downs and learned a lot. We’d go off in one direction, then learn new things and go in a new direction,” Garey said. “We’ve created something from nothing, from the ground up. It’s ours, and we believe in it. We didn’t know if it would be awful or work, but now we’re done with the prototype and it works and it’s awesome.”

The technology is targeted toward the everyday consumer, but according to Blumentritt, other applications are possible, such as use by relief workers to charge GPS units in the field.

“This team has worked so hard to be able to share. I don’t think they realize how innovative they’ve been,” Sanders said. “The products that are out there are not creative and not what people enjoy wearing. We’ve created pieces that function — they’re useable, wearable, durable and are aesthetically great.”

The designers returned from Washington D.C. yesterday after presenting their project at the National Sustainable Design Expo and competing for further funding in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet student competition. They were not selected for Phase II of the competition, but met with a great response and were one of two schools asked to present at a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conference last Tuesday.

“Garments and clothing are things that everyone can relate to and understand. Our project is one that’s very relatable to everyday life,” Sanders said. “People were interested in the product and technology, and we got a lot of good feedback and interest from individuals. It was really great to interact with students and talk with individuals and demonstrate how the product works.”

Although the solar panel apparel project is no longer in the competition, Sanders is confident that other venues and funding opportunities will present themselves, especially with such high consumer interest.

“What we did was incredible. In a short time, less than a year, we developed a feasible product that could go on the market. I don’t know what else we could have done — the team pulled an all-nighter to get what we had,” Sanders said. “To get the product to market is the ultimate goal eventually. It was one of the marketable and feasible products at the event. Many of the projects would take five or six years to implement, but we already have prototypes.”

Collegian reporter Kate Winkle can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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