Konarka Technologies and Textronics Inc. announced plans today to co-develop prototype clothing designed to generate electricity from the sun.
“Today’s techno-savvy consumers are carrying more and more mobile communication, computing and entertainment devices, such as phones, digital music players, cameras and PDAs,” the companies said in a press release. “Each of these devices relies on batteries, but their functionality is limited by the available power and the inconvenience of recharging or replacing batteries. By combining Konarka‘s Power Plastic and Textronics‘ electronic textile systems into wearable electronics, the companies will overcome the shortcomings of conventional power technologies by enabling consumers to have energy generation ability with them at all times.”
Konarka, which has been quite successful in raising venture capital, is often recognized as an up-and-coming leader of next-generation solar applications. Its light-activated “power plastic” may be less efficient at converting sunlight to electricity than traditional silicon-based solar cells, but the material is much more flexible, light weight, and versatile. In May it struck a deal with the U.S. Army to give soldiers uniforms, military tents and trucks the ability to produce their own power for mobile electronics in an increasingly digital battlefield.
The trick to making solar clothing for the masses will go beyond simple cost. Just because a jacket can keep an iPod charged doesn’t mean it will be worn, particularly if it looks goofy. That said, I wonder if the plan is to make this clothing capable of being networked. In other words, if 5,000 Konarka-clad teenagers at an outdoor rock concert held hands, could they collectively power the band’s sound system? Welcome to the human grid…