Powertraveller's modular charger powers up by crank, sun, wind and water
By C.C. Weiss
January 29, 2014
Powertraveller adds an ultra-versatile portable charger to its gadget charger line. Not only does the new Powermonkey Expedition include standards like a clamshell solar panel, AC adapter and crank charger, it complements them with a portable wind/river turbine. Carry the kit on your adventures and simply connect the generator component that's most suitable for the current conditions.
Powertraveller already has a well-stocked line of portable solar chargers aimed at outdoor excursionists. The company hails from the sometimes-drab, bitter UK, so it's not surprising that it'd want to develop a charging option that doesn't rely on the shining sun. The Powermonkey Expedition offers several.
The Expedition is based around a tubular, aluminum-cased lithium-polymer battery with a capacity of 10,500 mAh. That's not quite as large as Powertraveller's ginormous 60K Silverback-Gorilla, but the company reckons it's enough to charge the iPhone 5 about seven or eight times. That's way more than the average work commuter needs, but like its name implies, this unit is designed for lengthier trips, far away from the bedroom electrical outlet.
To keep that battery charged up in outdoor environments where weather can shift by the second, Powertraveller has devised a modular charging system that promises to make the Expedition the most versatile portable charger out there. Instead of tying itself to a single power source (crank, solar, fuel cell, etc. ), Powertraveller has built a platform that can accept them all. The base kit that it's showing now includes a 5-watt solar panel, a hand crank, an AC mains charger and a turbine.
Clearly the most interesting charger of the kit, the wind turbine secures to the top of the main battery unit and works in wind conditions down to 10.5 knots (12 mph/20 km/h). Though it's not hard to imagine this small, non-anchored turbine getting blown clean off the table in strong wind, it does have a set of aluminum legs to help stabilize it. Outdoor adventurers are known for fixing more complicated, pressing problems, so we'd imagine they'll quickly learn how to make this thing stay up. Efficiency is sure to vary widely based on the wind speed and consistency, but Powertraveller estimates the turbine will fully charge the battery in five to eight hours with optimal wind.
The wind charging is a nice feature on its own, but the turbine doesn't stop there. Turn it on its side, stick it in a stream or river and flowing water is converted into electricity in the same manner as wind energy. Powertraveller shows a photo of a hand holding the Expedition in place over a stream and doesn't explain how you might secure it, so this function will certainly entail a little of that outdoorsman ingenuity we mentioned before. The idea here is that you can set up camp near a stream and charge your battery during the evening and overnight. The Expedition is IP65 certified, so it can hold up to splashing and spraying, but you won't want to dunk it clean into the drink.
When the wind isn't blowing and the water isn't flowing, the wind turbine can be replaced with the hand crank for manual power generation. The crank has a 32:1 gearing ratio, and an LED light that shines green when you're cranking at optimal efficiency and red when you're too slow or fast. Ten minutes of crank time charges the battery by one percent, enough for 40 minutes of talk time on the iPhone 5S, according to Powertraveller.
Adventurers probably won't want to hand crank or spin a turbine while on the move, but strapping a solar panel to a backpack or sled should be easy enough. The Expedition's 5-watt, 5-volt photovoltaic panel charges the battery in 16 to 21 hours when the sun is shining bright. Because the panel connects to a separate part of the battery pack, it can be used in conjunction with the turbine to juice up the battery from both sources.
When it comes time to dispense all that sun, wind and muscle power, the Expedition packs both 12 V DC and 5 V USB outlets so that you can charge the full gamut of gadgets. Think tablets, smartphones, GPS units, headlamps, radios, etc. The Expedition can charge devices from both outputs simultaneously, while also charging its own internal battery.
As it stands now, the Expedition package is a robust platform with a surplus of charging options. Plans call for it to get a few more. Powertraveller made the platform modular in part so that it can be upgraded in the future. It mentions future butane, hydrogen fuel cell and even steam turbine attachments.
Powertraveller lists the Powermonkey Expedition's weight at 1.8 kg (4 lb). This is a big, versatile power solution for big expeditions – it's been tested by the likes of mountaineer Squash Falconer and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. It has the price to match, with Powertraveller estimating that the full kit will cost US$700 when it hits the market in May. The kit includes an AC charger that charges the battery up in 12 hours. The company also plans a smaller, more everyman-oriented version, which it will reveal this (northern) summer.
The Powermonkey Expedition took home a Gold Award at the ISPO Munich sports show going on now, and it seems clear that this will be a solid portable-power solution for the expedition market.