Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can finally enjoy a solar panel that combines efficiency and durability with the added ability to fit snugly on top of a backpack. Rather than having to decide between a power source that is either efficient or durable, the SunUp is both, meaning it can power explorers through nearly any adventure.
Invented by Bradley Brister in collaboration with The North Face, SunUp was designed as a final-year project for his Product Design Engineering bachelor’s course at Brunel University. The project was honored at the James Dyson Awards, where it was one of two runners up in the U.K. division of the contest. The awards recognize designs by current and recent engineering students from around the world.
According to Brister, the main focus of the project was to prove a more efficient and sturdier alternative to flexible solar panels. In the past, hikers looking to go off the grid had to choose between efficiency or durability. Rigid solar panels made of monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicone are 21 percent more efficient yet easily breakable, while flexible panels made with amorphous silicone are stronger but with 7 percent average efficiency.
The SunUp solution was to incorporate small, thin-film polycrystalline solar panels with an advanced hinge mechanism. The metal hinges have the system circuits built-in, so the conductive joints won’t strain or harden as the panels are used over time. The segmented panels are able to move more freely when impacted or dropped, lessening the chance of breakage while simultaneously boosting efficiency.
According to Brister, each module is interlinked by a conductive hinge that doesn’t produce any mechanical deformation when in use, eliminating the typical issue of solar panels that bend only a few thousand times before eventually snapping. Theoretically, the design can be flexed and bent indefinitely or until the surfaces wear down.
The panels easily fit on top of a backpack but could also be mounted onto a canoe or any number of surfaces. If one of the panels breaks, it can be replaced without replacing the entire system, adding to the product’s sustainability and longevity. The 15W panel uses a 4000 mAh battery that fully charges within 12 hours.
Images via Bradley Brister