In the past, we've seen solar ovens that can whip up a hot meal using only the sun's rays, but Solar Cool Technologies has a new product that harvests that same energy to accomplish just the opposite. We quite literally crossed paths with the Solar Cooler and its designers at a Las Vegas casino during CES where they were showing off the new Solar Cooler. The Solar Cooler, as its name implies, is a portable container for food and drinks that keeps its contents cold using a compact refrigeration system connected to solar panels.

If you've ever loaded a cooler full of ice and food to take to the beach, only to find it all a soggy mess once you've arrived, then you can probably understand the appeal of what is essentially a portable refrigerator. According to the designers, the Solar Cooler can hold a steady 42° F (5.5° C) for over 24 hours, depending on how often the lid is opened, but can also go as low as 14° F (-10° C) if needed. The temperature is set precisely using a digital display on the side. Users can also get more power by attaching additional solar panels or pre-charging the batteries through an electrical outlet before going out.

The cooler itself measures 16 x 14 x 17 in (41 x 36 x 43 cm) and weighs 55 lb (25 kg). Even with the refrigeration system, this still leaves an interior volume of 40 L (10.5 gal), or enough for 60 12 oz (355 ml) soda cans. And naturally, since it doesn't require ice or cooling packs, that entire space can be completely filled with cold food and drinks.

The cooler comes with handles so it's easier to carry, and the whole case features a rugged design so it can survive numerous trips and parties unscathed. The model we saw at CES also sported an optional pair of beach wheels that can traverse sandy terrain during a trip to the ocean. As an added bonus, both USB and 12 V outlets are located on the side, which can be used to charge a mobile phone or plug in a blender. The inside lid even contains a small light, so you can find what you need in the dark.

It may look like a simple concept, but getting the right balance of size and power management required some thorough research and testing. The Solar Cooler incorporates some advanced circuitry to collect solar energy from the photovoltaic cells on the lid, store it in the internal batteries, and then distribute it to the refrigeration system, all while taking up a relatively small amount of space.

Keeping food and drinks chilled with solar power is handy enough on its own, but the developers have bigger plans for the Solar Cooler's technology. If the current recreational version is successful enough, the company plans to manufacture a similar cooler specifically for vaccines called the Hêlios. Naturally, a rugged, solar-powered cooler would help preserve any medicine traveling to remote areas of the world just as well as it could preserve a case of beer on its way to a party.

Unfortunately, all that advanced technology may come with quite a hefty price tag. Right now, as part of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to begin manufacturing, the developers have pitched the device at US$950. That figure is discounted from the retail price of $1,200 and will include the beach wheel kit (which is $150 by itself).

Even with the added convenience and eco-friendliness though, many people may balk at paying over ten times as much as a similar-sized cooler filled with ice. If all goes as planned however, the first batch of Solar Coolers are expected to ship in June of this year.

Check out the video below to see how the Solar Cooler was brought to life.

Sources: Solar Cool Technologies, Indiegogo