Image via Scott Lynch.
Occupy Wall Street can now be credited with something besides bringing income inequality into the national dialogue, freeing the network, rejuvenating the left, and reminding us that all that cops are assholes. It also, it turns out, birthed the mobile solar-powered cell phone charger.
Tommy Mitchell, who has degree in neuropsychology and works for a renewable energy company in New York, designed and built a solar-powered device charger he imagines leasing to fairs and outdoor events. And the idea came from Occupy.
The idea for the stations hatched when Mr. Mitchell was strolling through the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park last fall. Curious, he asked a protester how he and others were keeping their cellphones and computers charged. The answer surprised him: a hot dog vendor’s generator.
“I was like, ‘Well that’s awful,’” he said. That’s when he began thinking about inventing a device that could harness renewable electricity in a public space without outlets. “It’s so practical that you can see it,” he said.
Over the next week, Mr. Mitchell researched how campers rig up makeshift cellphone chargers far from civilization. Then he ordered individual parts from Amazon.com and built his own prototype.
Invention in hand, he returned to Zuccotti Park and offered the services of his new device. He said it was an instant hit. While cellphone charging stations had been popping up in bars and airports, they usually charge a fee. And most stations require the user to bring a charger that is then plugged into the grid, which is largely powered by burning fossil fuels.
It’s kind of an obvious idea—not to steal Mr. Mitchell’s thunder or anything—and companies have been toying around with personal solar electronics chargers for years. But those were mostly cheesy panels slathered on backpacks or satchel bags.
This is definitely a step up; a bigger picture solution to a problem that almost everyone has nowadays: ‘Man, my phone’s almost dead’ could be the motto for the 21st century Saturday day trip. It’s easy to imagine solar chargers at fairs, festivals, events, etc. Maybe if more people’s phones were charged at GoogaMooga, for instance, more people would have been warned to stay the hell away.
I’d also like to note that Mitchell’s Eureka moment is just one of many to come out of the occupation at Zuccotti (again, see Free the Network). Amidst the derision and the speculation and the coverage of the political angle, a simple observation got lost in the mix: beautiful things were happening when such a widely diverse, young, and ambitious group of folks put their heads together. That entirely unique kitchen sink type of social scene was beyond powerful at attracting and generating new electric thinking. TED would kill for that kind of brainpower.