Solar-powered cell phone charger gains attention in Camden
Camden — Four high school students were drawing the attention of those along the Camden waterfront Aug. 3, as the group held a field test for a solar-powered cell phone charging station.
Camden Hills Regional High School students Tom Cox and Katie Pratt of Camden and Watershed School students William Alexander of South Thomaston and Stuart Randolph of Rockport came up with the invention during their time spent at the Useful Arts Camp. The camp is headquartered at the Bamboo Bike shop on Bay View Street. The group named themselves "KWTS," which is the first letters of their first names and, coincidentally, could be an abbreviation for kilowatts.
"It's more of a concept and we are trying to get people educated about solar," Alexander said of the project.
Useful Arts Camp ran from July 23 to Aug. 3 and challenges teens, ages 15 to 18 years old, to solve real-world problems in a multi-disciplinary, collaborative setting. Each summer, the camp puts forward a new suite of problems to be solved using engineering, math, science, and whatever else is necessary, according to information from its website.
Initially, the students said they thought of creating a station to charge laptop computers, but decided it would be easier to start with a cell phone charging station.
Cox said the first design was spray-painted black and "really ugly" but they were excited the device worked to charge the phones. Various other designs improved the look of the design and the students settled on a wood shingle design to blend in with Camden's look, they said.
The station has a window on the back to view how the device directs power from the sun to charge the phones. The solar panel is made from multiple, smaller cells connected together by soldered wires. The light of the sun excites electrons in the cell, which travel down two metal strips, according to information posted by the students on the charging station. At two ends, wires connect to the panel, one carrying a negative charge and the other a positive. These wires carry direct current to a charge controller, which limits electricity to avoid damaging parts of the system and directs energy to a black battery when the chargers are not in use. Electricity is then sent through an inverter, which changes energy from direct current to to alternating current, which is what nearly all modern electronic devices use. The AC current from the inverter then travels to a power strip where the cell phone chargers are plugged in.
The students said their next plan is to weatherize the station and also hope to build a couple more around town or even sell them.
"But we want to hit singles before hitting a homerun," Pratt said, of starting the project on a small scale.
The Camden Herald reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.