A Mini Power Plant for Your Next Adventure


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You are, no doubt, already familiar with the mini power plants known as camp stoves. The ReadySet is a different kind of mobile energy source that generates and stores electrical power generated by the sun or pedal power. While it wasn't originally designed for outdoor recreation, it might find a happy home in your excursion kit.

The ReadySet is the work of Fenix International, a San Francisco-based company that got its start by creating renewable energy solutions for economic development and emissions reductions in off-grid communities in the developing world. Visiting small villages in Africa, Fenix International CEO Mike Lin discovered that entrepreneurs were scavenging old car batteries and using them to power up cell phones and other small electrical devices. Despite their lack of electrical grid access, more than 600 million people in the developing world are using cell phones. So the need for a reliable, clean and mobile power source was obvious.

To recharge the car batteries being used to power up phones, entrepreneurs have to lug the heavy batteries to and from the nearest city. Alternatively, they can use fuel-based generators, but that is hardly a sustainable solution. The ReadySet is like a mini car battery, but one that can be recharged via a small solar panel or through power converted from a bicycle generator so entrepreneurs can offer a constant stream of power.

The ReadySet can also power electrical lanterns, a much cleaner and healthier alternative to the kerosene-powered lights that are used in many homes and which expose residents to emissions as harmful as a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. (Check out this short video about Annette, a Ugandan entrepreneur, to learn more.)

Of course, the ReadySet can do all of these things for cell phones, tablets, cameras, camp lights, travel speakers and the various adventure electronics we increasingly bring into the great outdoors. Starting this week, Fenix International is making the ReadySet available in the U.S., through a Kickstarter campaign that will also serve as a fund- and awareness-raiser for the company.

The ReadySet comes with a 15-watt solar panel, wall plug, a universal clip charger that can power just about any make of lithium ion camera or phone battery, and small LED light. By the end of the year, Fenix hopes to also begin selling a bike-based power generator here in the U.S. ReadySet users in Africa are already using these, but Fenix is still developing a generator that will work well with the wide variety of makes and models of bike stands in the U.S., according to Fenix CEO Mike Lin.

The first 100 people to pledge will get the ReadySet at a steep discount, and smaller discounts will be offered to the next 600 pledgers. At full price, the ReadySet will sell for $300. (Since it's a Kickstarter, there are various other offers at various pledge levels.)

Admittedly, the rigid solar panel isn't very travel friendly, but it will suffice quite well for car camping or a day at the beach. Lin says the ReadySet was designed to work with any portable solar panel, including packable or rollable versions. Some of these have proprietary plugs, however, so check with Fenix before you commit. Even if the plug is proprietary, you should be able to hack it relatively easily to plug into the ReadySet. “Our secret sauce is the ReadySet software, which makes it plug and plug. It automatically knows what is plugged in,” says Lin.

The Kickstarter campaign, he hopes, will also serve as a way to crowdsource creative hacks and new applications for the ReadySet platform.

“By bringing ReadySet to the domestic market, we're looking to tap into a community of makers and hackers who might take advantage of the ReadySet as a platform for developing new applications,” says Lin. “We’ll publish a guide for people who want to design things and make third party applications.”

In the developing world, that could be something like a small refrigerator, designed to store vaccines, that is small enough to be charged with the ReadySet powered by a solar panel. Here in the U.S., it might be a generator attachment that would power up the ReadySet while the bike is in motion, rather than on a stand.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor