Imagine a world in which everything runs on solar power--your car, your cell phone, even your lawnmower and your wireless keyboard. If you're willing to do some shopping, it's not too hard to make a lot of your electronic devices environmentally friendly. Here are 15 of the coolest and most useful (though not always the most fashionable) solar-powered gadgets.
Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750
If you want to free your keyboard from both wires and batteries, Logitech has a product for you: the wireless solar keyboard K750 ($80). This thin (1/3 of an inch thick) keyboard features 2.4GHz wireless and gets power from both outdoor and indoor light--just in case you want to do your computing under the sun.
Sole Mio Mouse
What better companion for your wireless, solar-powered keyboard than a wireless, solar-powered mouse? The Sole Mio mouse first underwent testing in 2007 at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, but unfortunately there has been no word about it since.
If you're just getting into solar power, keep in mind that not all solar gadgets have to have a practical purpose. After all, we're talking about the sun--you don't have to worry about wasting energy! Check out the Solar Frightened Grasshopper ($10), which jumps around when it gets too much sunlight, or the mini solar-powered car ($20), which zooms around.
Sure, it's not the most attractive table around, but the Sun Table is particularly useful--especially because it's weather-resistant. The Sun Table's surface is made up of cells that capture solar energy and store it for later use. The next time you're sitting out in the garden with your laptop, you don't have to worry about running out of juice--just pop the waterproof cap off the Sun Table's electrical outlet, and plug your gadget in.
What better place to have solar panels than on your sunglasses? These attractive (yes, I can barely say that with a straight face) solar-panel sunglasses imagined by eco-designers Hyun-Joong Kim and Kwang-Seok Jeong feature dye solar cells. The designers describe the dye solar cells as "cheap organic dye [used with] nano technology [providing] cheap but high energy efficiency." A small power jack at the back of the frames allows you to use the collected energy to charge small gadgets such as phones and MP3 players.
Soulra Solar Boom Box
Need a way to carry your tunes into the great outdoors? Eton's stylish Soulra XL Solar-Powered iPod/iPhone boom box features a flip-out solar panel. With a maximum output of 230mA, the panel allows you to charge your iPod or iPhone while listening to music through the speakers. If you're not outside, that's no problem: The unit also has a lithium ion battery pack for indoor listening. Right now Eton sells a ruggedized version of the boom box starting at $200; the model shown here wont be available until mid-2011, according to Eton.
Sharp Solar Hybrid SH6230C Cell Phone
We've seen solar-powered cell phone battery chargers, but what about a solar-powered cell phone? Sharp's Solar Hybrid SH6230C cell phone is just that--the phone sports a solar panel that soaks up sun and outputs talk time. Other specs include a 2.9-inch LCD screen and a 5-megapixel camera. Sharp isn't the only company toying with solar power, however: LG and Samsung have also developed solar-powered phone prototypes.
Husqvarna Hybrid Lawnmower
The Husqvarna Hybrid Lawnmower is like a Roomba for your lawn. Not only does it mow the lawn all by itself, but it's also partly powered by the sun. The $3000 machine, which uses its solar panel to extend its battery life on appropriately sunny days, offers an LCD settings panel, a timer, an antitheft alarm, and a PIN-code lock. This lawn buddy also provides remote texting (if something disturbs the operation, it will send your phone a text message to notify you) and automatic charging: Similar to a Roomba, when it senses its battery is low, it will return to its charging station on its own.
The I-Slate is a low-cost, solar-powered tablet device designed for poor children who attend schools without electricity. This project, part of a partnership between Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, Houston's Rice University, and Indian nonprofit organization Villages for Development and Learning Foundation, is currently being tested by children in rural India.
LG Solar-Powered E-Reader
E-readers are known for their special technology that's perfect for reading in bright sunlight. So it makes sense that LG has developed a solar-powered e-reader panel prototype by combining a 10-centimeter solar panel with a Sony Reader device. LG says that just 4 or 5 hours of exposure will power the e-reader for an entire day. The solar panel is expected to go commercial by 2012.
Solar-Powered Charging Backpack
Here's another one for outdoorsy folks. Voltaic's OffGrid Solar Backpack ($250) is perfect for carrying and charging your gadgets on the go. This high-tech backpack has a removable solar pack with a universal USB battery that you can also charge through an AC charger. The backpack measures 18 inches high by 12 inches wide by 8 inches deep, and has a 17-inch padded laptop pocket and wire channels.
Chinavasion's weatherproof charging vest is billed as a "fusion of fashion and technology," but I think they're being tongue in cheek. The canvas "fashion-tech" vest sports nine pockets (eight on the front and one on the back) and four laminated solar panels on the back (along with the embroidered words "SOLAR VEST," just in case people want to know what you're wearing). The $150 garment comes with seven different device connectors and eight power connectors.
Solar-Powered Cell Phone Chargers
One of the most popular uses for sun power is cell phone (and other gadget) charging. If you're looking for a straight-up charger (one not disguised as a backpack or tie or table), consider the $50 JuiceBar portable solar charger (which comes with 12 different connectors), the $80 Dexim P-Flip solar panel pack (a charging dock for your iPhone), and the $200 Chinavasion huge-capacity solar charger and battery (20,000 mAh, strong enough to power a laptop).
If fashion doesn't matter too much in your business but having a fully charged BlackBerry does, look forward to the solar-powered tie. This tie features a cleverly disguised solar panel and a unique, um, solar-panel pattern. You'll certainly be the talk of your next meeting. But that's not all: The back of the tie has a hidden elastic pocket with a charger, so you can just toss your phone in the pocket whenever you need some extra juice. Stylish and useful.
Finally, we have the big one: solar-powered vehicles. Unfortunately, solar power isn't yet practical for powering our everyday transportation, but that doesn't mean that solar-powered cars don't exist. Solar cars--mostly used in solar-car races--are awesome, streamlined, futuristic-looking vehicles that fit only one person. Shown here (clockwise from top left) are the Honda Dream (1996), the Ned by the South Australian Solar Car Consortium (1999), and the Infinium by the University of Michigan (2009).