Solar-powered headphones are the next must-have gadget

The headphones can charge from both natural and artificial light.
Stephen Vicinanza

Adidas / Headphones  

Forgetting to charge wireless devices has been an issue since they started being made. Headphones and earbuds are no exception. Now the German sports giant Adidas, and the Swedish firm Urbanista, both have solar panels built into the headbands of their headphones.

These small, lightweight, flexible panels are built by another Swedish company, Exeger. They have spent the last ten years working to make those panels have the attributes that are thin, and powerful enough to be used in a headphone.

Exeger’s head, Giovanni Fili says it is a matter of matter of convenience and most importantly the right thing to do for the environment.

In a statement Fili said, “Charging – everyone hates it. But every time you don’t charge [using main electricity] it is a good thing for the world. The new generation of young adults expects to be offered the tools to do good [for the environment], and that is what we are offering."

The solar panels that Exeger makes are called Powerfoyle and they are just 1.3 mm thick. The technology they use is based on strips of titanium dioxide covered in a natural dye. In very simple terms, the dye absorbs photons of light, which are then transitioned into electrons.

While Powerfoyle’s panels are only half as efficient as the standard silicon-based solar panels, of the same size in the same amount of full sunlight, the titanium dioxide panels are, in addition much easier and cheaper to produce, while being significantly thinner.

There is a battery in the solar-powered headphones, that is charged from the solar panels, and gets up to 80 hours of playback time. Mr. Fili states that solar charging can produce one hour’s worth of power “from just 20 minutes of English or Swedish sunshine.”

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The panels, to their credit, can also produce some power from artificial light, such as indoor lighting. This means the headphones are charging constantly, except in complete darkness, such as when the wearer is sleeping at night.

There is still a power port in case there is heavy usage and backup power is necessary. Mr. Fili added that is not likely that smartphones and other devices aren’t going to have solar panels, anytime soon. Because many people keep the handset in a pocket and therefore it doesn’t have access to light. Instead, he envisions solar panels being fitted to people’s clothing and bags, and phones can be charged from there.

The Finnish company Plano is already making fabrics that have built-in solar paneling.

That firm is led by Elina Ilén, who is a professor at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia’s Department of Textile and Paper Engineering. She is a leading expert on wearable textile electronics.

In this instance, the company is working on producing clothing that is washable with built-in solar-powered sensors. These can monitor various aspects of the wearer’s health, such as heart rate, temperature, posture, sleep quality, and body fat levels.

"Although these solar cells do produce enough energy to power wearable devices, placing a solar cell behind a textile will never have the same efficiency of harvesting energy as a solar cell in direct sunlight," said Ms Ilén in a statement.

There is still a long way to go, before devices like cell phones are charged wirelessly by solar panels, whether in garments or mounted on a case.

One of the other wearable energy-producing devices and garments is static electricity being studied as a form of power generation. The solar panel is not the only game in town, it seems. But it is a way forward, today, to self-charging devices.

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