Sailing the Baltic Sea with a solar powered mobile phone

If you’re into sailing, you might have recently read about the MS Tûranor, the world’s biggest solar powered boat. The name, from a language in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, means “the Power of the Sun”. Apt when you consider the boat is currently trying to circumnavigate the globe using solar energy alone. If the sun’s rays can be used for boat power, can they be used for boat communication, too? That’s the question our intrepid sailor, Petteri Alinikula, set out to discover when he sailed the Baltic. Here’s how he fared.

Setting sail

Diary: Day 1, July 6. Still on shore, making final preparations for the trip. I tend to worry about all things. And boy, there is a lot to worry in sailing: technology, safety, food, routes, everything. In the evening our plan is to sail a couple of hours from our home harbor to Suomenlinna, a beautiful 18th Century fortress in front of downtown Helsinki. Perfect location to start crossing the Baltic Sea on Thursday. Did charge my super sun phone using a wall charger. Now it should stay operational for the next three and a half weeks. Should have one topic less to worry!

Day 2. Thursday. Whole day sailing over the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn.

Analysis: Day 1 +2. Petteri’s use case is different to our other testers in a really interesting way. He’s very mobile, yet Lokki, our solar mobile phone prototype, doesn’t really move. In fact, Lokki was placed on the rail of his sailing boat in a bag with a transparent window. No thieves walking on the water, so it stayed there 24/7. Prior to the trip Lokki battery was fully changed from mains. We know that the transparent window filters 10 to 20% of the power away, and collects up some heat.

First day on the water, and the greatest solar energy harvesting day. 137mAh collected charge would be good for 82 minutes talk or 69 hours stand by. Actually so good solar charging, that at 4pm the two days ago charged battery seems to get full, and stops taking any more charge. With more load, harvested capacity could have been even 150mAh.

Cruising across the Gulf of Finland

Diary: Day 3 Yesterday we crossed the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki to Tallinn. Solar energy-created winds were not too co-operative. At times we had to consume some of the Mother Earth’s remaining fossil fuels to get us to our destination. At the same time we also consumed all the energy of the captain and the crew. So today relax, relax, relax.

Analysis: Day 3. Friday, July 8. Luckily some usage with the phone in the harbor to flatten the battery even a little, yet it stays at about 90% charge level with the help of 44 mAh charged by solar energy.

Playing games in pea soup fog

Diary: Day 4 + 6 Sailing from Lohusalu to Dirhami, sunshine, some clouds. Arrived to Haapsalu via Lohusalu and Dirhami. Shallow waters make sailing against the wind difficult. The pea soup fog on the way to Lohusalu made me want to have hyper vision to see through the fog. Then I realized that mankind has an innovation even for that, a radar. My sun phone seems to keep the battery full even without thorough alignment and without full sunshine. So far the main use case has been Olga and Oliver searching for new games and music from Dad’s special never-die phone.

Analysis: Day 4 to 6. Saturday, July 9 to Monday, July 11. Battery keeps topping up on the sea. The bag that Lokki is in blocks the cooling sea wind and temperature tends to get high. July 10 recorded the highest internal temperature of Lokki, 60°C and charge was suspended. Other days the peak was close to 50°C, some days just 40°C.

After a week of voyaging Lokki certainly seemed to be performing well. But would it carry on being plain sailing for Petteri and his family of adventurers? Find out in the next update.

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10 Responses to Sailing the Baltic Sea with a solar powered mobile phone

  1. Stu says:

    Great article.

    Come on Nokia, time to pull your socks up, look what’s happening -

    LG’s solar-powered Optimus Sol smartphone leaks out

    http://www.electronista.com/articles/11/08/11/mid.range.android.phone.features.solar.charger/

    • Joel says:

      Thanks, Stu. And thanks for the link. We’ll be interested to see how much of LG’s phone is actually powered by solar energy given the huge power demands of smartphones.

      What we’re really interested in is the viability of mobile that’s solely powered by solar, rather than one, which gets just a tiny fraction of it power from the sun’s rays.

  2. Nigerius says:

    It would be a nice thing to have a solar powered nokia charger. Nigerians would really appreciate it, and especially if it is made by Nokia.

  3. Nigerius says:

    A solar powered nokia charger: That’s what I think Nokia should think of making for Nigerians considering two major facts. One, there is power problems over here. Then lastly because it is difficult to get an original replacement for a weak or dead battery.

    • Joel says:

      Good points, NIgerius. Our aim is to try and make use of solar energy in way that are both practical and affordable. Hopefully, this research project will help us find whether a charger is a realistic option.

    • Joel says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nigerius. That’s a great idea and trying to help people who have unreliable connections to the power grid is one of the key things that’s driving our research.

      Hopefully this project will give us a better idea how to achieve that.

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