Those lucky enough to be currently enjoying the Northern Hemisphere summer will no doubt be heading for the beach for a good bronzing as often as possible. These days, of course, the digital device is an important part of the sun worshiper's kit, and making sure they have enough battery power to go the distance can be a major concern. The Solar Bikini from New York designer Andrew Schneider is said to be capable of charging a smartphone or media player while the wearer lays back and soaks up the summer sun. Now available for custom order, each bikini sports 40 thin and flexible photovoltaic strips connected by conductive thread, which ends at a USB port.

Schneider told Gizmag that the idea for the Solar Bikini came to him while brainstorming ideas for sustainable products at the opening session of an Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. He jokingly said that he was going to make a bikini capable of chilling beer at the beach. Thinking more about the idea, he realized that with the help of modern photovoltaic technology and a Peltier junction, such a product might in fact be technically possible.

Sadly, the prototype that followed didn't produce nearly enough juice to power a cooler, but Schneider found that it did work with an iPod. After a few refinements, the Solar Bikini is now being made available for a very limited number of custom orders via Solar Coterie.

The outer surface of the bikini is covered with 1 x 4-inch (25.4 x 101.6 mm) flexible photovoltaic cells from PowerFilm Solar, which are precision hand-stitched onto the base material using conductive thread. Photon bombardment sends the electrons down to a 5V DC terminator and onward to a female USB connector for device attachment. The output is said to be comparable to a laptop's USB port, as is the time it takes to charge an MP3 player or mobile phone.

As no energy is actually stored in the bikini, the designer says that wearers can even go for a swim while sporting the high-tech bikini, although charging while going for a dip is not recommended. Once back from the water, the Solar Bikini needs to be completely dried before any device is attached, or it won't function properly.

Of course, spending a good length of time under a blazing sun is not terribly good news for the skin, and a healthy combination of effective sunscreen and common sense is advised.

The cost of each Solar Bikini will vary according to the design, but it's not going to be a cheap clean energy charging solution for your portable devices. Schneider told us that "you can expect anywhere from US$500 to US$1,500 and up."

The designer says that he hasn't given up on the idea of chilling beer using beachwear, and is currently building and testing prototypes for the iDrink - men's solar shorts with sufficient surface area to push out the energy needed to power a small drinks chiller.