Back to School Gadgets: Staple-less Stapler

Back to School these days just isn’t the Back to School it was in my day. When I went back to school, I went to the grocery store, picked out a colorful cardboard box that held No. 2 pencils (yellow thank you very much), some crayons, a ruler (wooden) and maybe some Elmer’s glue (the white sticky stuff: glue sticks hadn’t yet been invented).

That was it.   Schools supplied paper in grade school and we weren’t required to take grocery sacks of hand sanitizer, tissues, Dry Erase markers and Dry Erase erasers and and whatever else.

Nowadays, Back to School is a BIG deal that is styled and trended with everyone trying to outdo themselves with the latest Back to School gear…

Read more: Staple-less Stapler

“Solar Dok” solar powered outdoor charging solution

Outdoor gadget charging stations are a sort of relaxation for gadget nuts. Solar Dok is perfect solution for the gadgets running out of juice when you are on a picnic at some place far from grid energy. The umbrella on the upper part has photovoltaic cells to harness sun and below that lies a seating plan. Just plug in your laptop or phone for some juice and enjoy what you didn’t want to miss. Not only solar powered, but also the whole structure is made from recycled material. You can call it a completely green and off-grid solution. The umbrella can be set at different angels to provide maximum exposure to sunlight and includes a battery for storage and uninterrupted power supply. A digital readout with charge controller will let you know the power levels. Other than this the Dok includes 110 VAC GFCI “GREEN” power outlets, USB Type A Power Outlets, and 700 Lumen High intensity Low Power LED lighting system operated with push button and timer for machine use at night.

United Nations Turns to Colorado for Green Energy Solutions

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The eyes of world leaders may be on oil-rich Libya, but the United Nations is also focused on another of its top priorities: the issue of the fact that 20% of world’s citizens are living without power. In that vein, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon this week visited the Denver area to explore options for bringing electricity to those 1.4 billion people, most rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

While touring the U.S. Department of Energy‘s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, the U.N. head was shown flexible, lightweight thin-film solar panels and given a demonstration of a solar blanket device created by Thornton, Colo.-based Ascent Solar Technologies (Nasdaq: ASTI) designed to be spread out to collect the sun’s rays and convert them to battery-stored electricity—technology used by the U.S. military in isolated war zones.

The United Nations, which has declared 2012 the “Year for Sustainable Energy for All,” plans to form a partnership with the NREL with the goal of achieving universal access to electricity and doubling global use of clean energy by 2030.

Colorado, which derived 5% of its electricity from renewables in 2010, is on pace to reach 27% by 2020. The state requires large utilities to obtain 30% of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

The results of a poll released this week by the nonprofit Checks and Balances Project found that seven in ten Coloradans support adopting a national renewable electricity standard requiring 20% of electricity to come from clean sources; and seventy-two percent favor ending oil company subsidies and transferring them to companies developing solar and wind power.

Courtesy: Shannon Roxborough/

New Design may make Wind Farms More Efficient

Windfarm in the city of Osório, Rio Grande do Sul.

Image via Wikipedia

We’ve been stuck in a quagmire on individual wind turbine efficiency, meaning wind energy is now a mature technology that is not really a viable mass solution for replacing fossil fuels. But California Institute of Technology researchers have revisited some of the fundamental assumptions that guided the wind industry for the past 30 years, and now believe that a new approach to wind farm design, one that places wind turbines close together instead of farther apart, may provide significant efficiency gains.

This challenges the school of thought that the only remaining advances to come are in developing larger turbines, putting them offshore, and lobbying for government policies favorable to the further penetration of wind power in energy markets.

Current thinking, increasing height and size, leads to frequently cited issues such as increased cost and difficulty of engineering and maintaining the larger structures, along with visual, acoustic, and radar signatures problems, not to mention more bat and bird impacts.

Read more: New Wind Farm Design

Sneaker Harnesses Kinetic Energy

Extending battery life is a walk in the park

University of Wisconsin researchers have come up with a way of converting human motion into energy to power a smartphone. But they say a commercial model is years away.

While the principle of using kinetic energy from a person walking to power a device has been explored in the past, Tom Krupenkin and Ashley Taylor have a slightly new twist on the technique.

Their inspiration came from electrowetting, the way that a surface that doesn’t absorb liquid (thus causing droplets to form) reacts in a different way when electrically charged (thus changing the shape of the droplets.)

Krupenking and Taylor’s concept simply reverses this process, such that the movements of the droplets caused by motion can be converted into electrical current. Using a form of Gallinstan, a liquid metal alloy used in thermometers, they believe a device in a shoe could produce between 1 and 10 watts, depending the speed of the walker and the efficiency of the device.

In raw terms, that’s very inefficient: some estimates say a person running can produce up to a kilowatt of power, usually lost as heat. But compared with existing devices that convert mechanical energy to electrical energy, it’s a huge improvement. The BBC notes that one set-up, which uses under-floor mats to power automatic doors in two Tokyo railway stations, relies on the fact that thousands of commuters will pass over the mats.

While the most obvious use of the reverse-electrowetting device would be to use shoe movements to power a portable device such as a phone, there is the obvious barrier of how to physically transfer the power from shoe to gadget. There has been suggestions of using a USB cable in some circumstances, such as military use where the style issues of clipping a phone to an ankle holster wouldn’t be a problem. However, for consumer use the most likely compromise seems to be that the shoe device would also make the connection to the phone network, which is one of the most power-intensive parts of the phone. A short-range Bluetooth of Wi-Fi connection could then transfer data.

The pair have now formed their own company, Instep Nanopower, and are seeking investors to help turn the concept into reality.