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Solar Shrub Featured on MAKE!

make-logoThe Solar Shrub II was featured on MAKE Magazine’s website five days ago!

MAKE has been the catalyst for a worldwide Maker Movement that is transforming innovation in industry, hands-on learning in education and the personal lives of makers of all ages. MAKE invites everyone to become a maker, and integrate creative goals with technical skills.

Here’s the link: Solar Shrub Charges a Phone Indoors. I would like to offer a special thanks to MAKE contributor, , for posting the article!

 
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Solar Shrub Featured on TreeHugger.com!

TreeHugger.comThe Solar Shrub II was featured on TreeHugger.com today!

TreeHugger.com is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, they strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information. They publish an up to the minute blog, weekly and daily newsletters, twice-monthly radio interviews, and regularly updated Twitter and Facebook pages.

Thanks to tech writer Megan Treacy for submitting the article! Megan writes for the Technology section of Treehugger and has been covering clean technology topics as the Managing Editor of EcoGeek.org since 2008. Check out more TreeHugger articles by Megan here http://www.treehugger.com/author/megan-treacy/.

 
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Solar Shrub II

Solar Shrub II

Over the weekend, I posted Solar Shrub II on Instructables.com.

Check out the details at http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Shrub-II/. This post describes my original design, the materials used, and a step-by-step description of  how I built the prototype. It also includes photos of the Solar Shrub II in action!

Solar Shrub II is my latest prototype and it addresses all of the weaknesses and  incorporates all of the improvements I outlined in a post called Redesign and Re-engineer on September 22,2012.

I’ve been working on this new version of the shrub for several months now and I am very happy with the results.

Here are some highlights:

Higher Output Current – I achieved higher current by purchasing 8 high-quality solar cells rated at 2-volt x 80mA. Then, with help from Joshua Zimmerman at BrownDogGadgets.com, I added a USB booster and internal lithium battery.

Combo USB Boost + Lithium Charge Controller + Lithium Battery - The combo board boosts the voltage from the solar cells to provide a steady 5V to the USB port. It also charges an internal lithium battery which supplements the cells when they are not in full sunlight. Once the battery is charged, I can even carry the Solar Shrub II indoors for charging devices in the comfort of my home!

Pluggable Stems – In order to make the stems more flexible and replaceable, I decided to use stranded wire instead of solid conductors and attach the stems to the shrub base using 1/8″ phono plugs and jacks. Now I can easily plug and unplug the stems as needed for quick and easy assembly and/or replacement.

A Sealed Water Resistant Enclosure – Instead of building the Solar Shrub II into a flower pot like the original design, I built this one as a self-contained plastic “capsule” with all the electronics safely inside. The stems plug into jacks on the top of the capsule which also contains a USB cable with female connector. This design allows weather protection and much more portability. It can be placed into any flower pot or container you wish.

 
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Patent Pending!

The Solar Shrub is now official “Patent Pending”! I actually filed a patent application for the SOLAR USB CHARGER RESEMBLING A POTTED PLANT OR SHRUB on 10/24/2012, but I’ve been so busy working on my prototype that I haven’t had time to post it.

This new Patent Pending design includes:

  • Pluggable Stems
  • An internal battery with charging circuit
  • Up to 500mA output
  • A sealed, weather resistant enclosure
 
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Redesign and Re-engineer

The original Solar Shrub was a great success from the standpoint that it did what it was supposed to do (charge small devices using nothing but energy from the Sun) . Plus winning the grand prize in the Instructables Green Tech Contest was definitely an ego boost!

But if I really want to bring Solar Shrubs to market, I’ll have to do some redesigning and re-engineering. There are several specific problems with the current design that could greatly effect its viability as a salable product:

1. Low Current: The current produced is too low to charge some devices in a reasonable amount of time. I had originally calculated a much higher current (around 300mA) based on bad information about the specs of the solar cells. What I wound up with was about 130mA.

My solution is to use higher power cells and create three or more parallel banks instead of two. This should give me a good useable current around 240-300mA for the small shrubs and more for the larger ones.

2. Intermittent Charging: Because it’s generating power real-time and feeding it directly to the USB port, the charging capacity is only at its maximum when the Solar Shrub is in direct sunlight. If a cloud passes over, or the cells are shaded even temporarily, the device stops charging.

My solution is to add lithium batteries and charging/boosting circuits. When the Solar Shrub is not being used to charge a device, it will change its internal battery. Then, the battery will act as a booster or supplement whenever the cells are not in full sunlight. This will even allow consumers to carry the Solar Shrub indoors (after some time out in the Sun) for charging devices in the comfort of their homes.

3. Difficult to Assemble: My strategy for the original Solar Shrub was to build “stems” with shrink-wrapped, small-diameter, solid-conductor wires attached to “leaves” (round solar cells). These stems were then pushed though holes in a base, bent to 90 degrees, and tie wrapped into place. These turned out to be somewhat difficult to assemble and would certainly create problems for packaging and shipping.

My solution is to build “pluggable” stems using audio-type phone plugs and jacks. A round base will contain holes for the jacks in a circular pattern. The stems will have a solar cell on one end and a plug on the other. So stems could be plugged and unplugged as needed for quick and easy assembly.

4. Vulnerable to Weather: One of the first questions I got about the Solar Shrub on Instructables was, “Is it waterproof?” My answer was no, but it got me thinking. If your Solar Shrub is outside charging and it starts to rain, what are you to do? So the new design will definitely have to be waterproof.

My solution is to build the Solar Shrub into a self-contained plastic “capsule” with all the electronics inside, stem jacks on the top, and a USB cable with female connector coming out of the enclosure. This design will also be much more portable. Consumers will be able to move the Solar Shrub to any flower pot they wish.

So, as you can see, I have a lot of work ahead of me. I’ve actually already started building a new prototype with the specs listed here. I’ll post an update with pictures as soon as I’ve made some progress.

 
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Solar Shrub is a Winner!

Solar Shrub is the Grand Prize Winner of the Instructables Green Tech Contest sponsored by Radio Shack!

http://www.instructables.com/contest/greentech2012/

Contest Info

Welcome to the Green Tech Challenge where we want to see what great uses you have for modern technology to reduce material or energy use.  This can be done with LED lights, solar power, drip irrigation, and so much more. The grand prize is a new iPad and a solar kit so you can use your technology wherever you go!

Once again, we’re talking about modern technology, that stuff with circuits, in order to be more green. Being “green” here means using less materials such as water or paper or less energy from the outlet.  How you do it is completely up to you. Just be sure to state what problem you’re solving and what you did to fix it. We can’t wait to see what it is!

 
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Solar Shrub on Instructables.com

Today, I posted the “Solar Shrub” on Instructables.com! Instructables is a great site for do-it-yourselves where you can post step-by-step instructions on anything from recipes to clothing to Solar Shrubs!

My post includes details on how I built the Solar Shrub and includes a parts list, wiring schematic, and lots of photos!

Check it out! http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Shrub/

 
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Proof of Concept (Prototype)

The “Solar Shrub” is my proof of concept. I designed it to be a functional, but more aesthetically pleasing version of a small solar USB charger.

I built it using off-the-shelf components that I purchased at Radio Shack and Lowe’s.

Most USB devices will charge with 5 Volts and ground delivered on the red and black wires of the USB connector.  I found out that Apple devices won’t. You have to trick them by providing specific voltages on the two data wires.

To get the right voltage, I hacked eight round solar cells from solar garden lights. Each cell produced around 1.5 Volts so I wired four cells in series to get 6 Volts. Then I added another bank of four cells in parallel to the first four. This gave me more current to work with. I stabilized the power by building a 5 Volt Regulator circuit that included a voltage divider to feed the data wires for Apple devices. Then I added an on/off switch, power LED, and female USB connector.

I mounted the whole assembly into a 6″ plastic flower pot and took it out in the sun!

And it works! It does a great job of charging my iPod, iPhone, and lots of other devices!

 
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The Solar Shrub

Published on July 1, 2012 by in Solar Shrub

I’m a solar energy advocate, tinkerer, and enthusiast. I love the idea of using solar energy to reduce my carbon footprint, but let’s face it, solar panels are UGLY!

Flat, rectangular panels can only be arranged in so many ways and always look industrial, boring, and out of place. So I thought, what if solar panels could resemble plants and trees? What if they could blend in instead of being so obtrusive? Why can’t they be decorative and live on the ground instead of on the roof.?

So as a first step toward my vision, I decided to build a functional, but more aesthetically pleasing version of a USB solar charger.

I call my creation the “Solar Shrub”. It will resemble a round-leafed plant in a flower pot, but unlike a real plant, this one will charge my iPhone (and any other USB chargeable device).

But my real dream is to design and build many different shapes and sizes of solar shrubs… from small tabletop models to larger bushes and even trees that can provide solar power to homes.

I created this blog to document the progress of the Solar Shrubs project.

 
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