Solar plane lands after two-week flight

A week ago we reported on the Zephyr solar airplane flying nonstop for a week. Yesterday it landed safely after flying nonstop for two weeks, achieving the goal its designers set for it.

The unmanned drone runs on efficient solar cells along its wingspan that charge batteries to keep it running through the night. Sunny skies over Arizona helped boost its power. Engineers hope that it will be the first “eternal plane”, never having to land. Qinetiq, the UK defense firm that designed it and flew it over a US military base, said there was no need for it to land yesterday but that it had proven its worth and is now ready for production.

The US military is interested in using it for military purposes, but Qinetiq is also pointing up the plane’s scientific and commercial possibilities.

The previous endurance record for an unmanned drone was 30 hours, 24 minutes. A manned solar plane, the Solar Impulse, recently flew through the night on a 24-hour flight.

Photo courtesy Qinetiq.

Review: KiwiChoice U-Powered solar battery charger

Keeping your devices powered when traveling is often a challenge. On many trips, it involves finding a power outlet, on some trips you may need to resort to using a battery backup pack, but some destinations may even stretch your batteries to the limit.

On those trips, you’ll need to find alternative power sources – and one of the easiest to tap into is the sun.

The KiwiChoice U-Powered solar battery charger is exactly what you need in those situations. The U-Powered charger is several devices in one – a 2000mAh battery pack, a solar charger and a USB power kit.

The kit comes with everything you need for your gadgets – the unit itself, a carrying pouch, car charger, wall/AC charger, USB power cord and an assortment of power tips. With this arsenal of chargers, you can charge your gadgets off AC power, car power, battery power or solar power. The power tip assortment supports everything from mobile phones to the iPhone. With its mini and micro USB plugs, it covers almost every current phone on the market.

As an added bonus, the U-Powered even offers a very bright 3-LED flashlight. On the side of the U-Powered is its charging port – this port uses the included charging cable. Plug one end into a USB charger, like the included AC or DC chargers, or your computer. This charges the internal 2000mAh battery pack. Turn the cable around, and it is ready to charge your gadgets. On the back of the unit are three strong magnets, which means you can stick it on a metal object to keep it in sight of the sun.

The USB port on the U-Powered is a normal plug, so if none of the 11 power tips fit your device, simply use the USB cable it came with.

The 2000mAh battery pack is sufficient for at least one and a half full charges on most devices, up to two or three on smaller electronics like an iPod. The solar panels can recharge the batteries when they receive around 17 hours of direct sunlight, and a green LED light shows when the panels are working.

All in all, I really like this little charger. It is a compact battery charger when you just need some juice on the road, and it can recharge itself almost anywhere you go. The best part of this product is actually the price – at just $49.99 it is about $30 cheaper than most other solar/battery products. You’ll find the U-Powered at KiwiChoice, where you can also learn more about its features and device compatibility.

Solar powered plane to circle the globe

While Boeing and Airbus scramble to make larger, more luxurious planes, others are pushing the envelope in different directions, attempting to find ways to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Take the Solar Impulse for instance. This plane is setting the bar high, with a plan to circumnavigate the globe completely under solar power.

The Solar Impulse is the brain child of Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss adventurer and environmentalist, who launched the project back in 2003 with the aim of promoting the use of renewable energy sources. Now, in 2009, he is closing in on that dream. His plane has a 200-foot wingspan which is lined with 12,000 photovoltaic solar cells that will draw energy from the sun to power its four engines.

Piccard unveiled the latest design for his plane on June 26th in a ceremony near Zurich. This prototype will undergo test flights in 2010, including night flights using solar power stored in batteries. In 2011 the next design of the plane will be completed, with 2012 set as the tentative start of its world tour. The fact that this plane can fly even at night is one of the the things that separates it from other solar powered aircraft in the past.

While we might be years away from solar power becoming commercially viable for flights, it is projects like these that are paving the way for the future of flight. A future that is clean and environmentally friendly.

Product review – Solio Magnesium edition hybrid battery charger

We’ve covered Solio before here on Gadling, so when they announced their most advanced charger ever, I just had to take it for a spin.

The new Solio Magnesium edition hybrid charger features a 3-panel solar charger. AC charging option and the ability to charge USB powered devices as well as any device covered by one of the thousands of options offered by the addition of iGo power tips.

The package comes very complete – the charger, an AC adapter with an assortment of international plugs, a female USB charging cable, an iGo charging cable, a bag full of iGo tips, a hemp carrying bag, and a pencil (more on the pencil later).

Before using the Solio, you bring its battery to 100% using the AC adapter, then when you are off the beaten path, and away from good old AC power, you give it a clear view of the sun, and it recharges itself. To charge your gadgets, you simply plug them into the miniUSB port on the side, using the female USB cable, or one of the included iGo tips. If none of the included tips fit your device, you can order the correct one from

So, how well does it work? I decided to use the Solio to keep my phone powered for a week, and it really did perform quite well.

On Sunday, I topped it up to 100% using the AC charger, and every night I’d charge my phone. In the morning, I placed it outside on a table. It was at that point I finally discovered what the pencil is for – it lifts the charger up to the right angle. Of course, had I actually sat down to read the manual, I would have known this all along.

Each night, I pressed the power button, and most nights, the green LED light would flash 5 times, an indication that the battery was back to 100%. Thanks to the power of the sun, I was keeping my phone going without any need for AC power.

The Solio magnesium edition is not cheap – at $169.95 I’d even say it is pretty expensive. But if you travel places where regular and reliable AC power is a luxury, it may be worth the money. The kit is very complete and once inside its carrying case, the entire package weighs just 9oz (265 grams), which is extremely light when you consider that includes the AC charger and an assortment of international plugs and power tips.

There are a couple of downsides to the Solio Magnesium Edition – to charge it, you need a lot of sun. The 2 times I had a cloudy day meant that the charger did not reach 100%, this isn’t a big issue if you travel to a nice sunny location, but don’t expect to generate a lot of power in places with less than decent weather.

Also, the device sometimes had a hard time powering my more hungry gadgets – an iPod or iPhone is just fine, but when I tried to top off my backup battery pack, nothing happened. The amount of power you can suck out of the Solio Magnesium edition is about 1800mAh, which is about enough for a 100% charge of an iPhone. If you completely drain the Solio, you’ll need at least 2-3 full sunny days to get it back to 100%.

The Solio Magnesium edition is available directly from Solio, or one of their retail partners.

Daily deal – Soldius 1 universal solar battery charger for $14.99

My daily deal for today is for the Soldius 1 universal solar powered battery charger. This pocket sized solar charger comes with an assortment of universal power “tips” for charging many commonly used devices like the iPod, Blackberry smartphones and most Nokia, Motorola, SonyEricsson, Samsung and Siemens phones.

Included in the package is also a female USB power tip, so you can use almost any power cable that has a regular USB plug.

The device is currently on sale for just $14.99, but supplies are limited. The Soldius solar charger comes in black or white, but you don’t get to pick the color you are shipped.

To get a full charge for your device, you’ll need to be in direct sunlight, and it may take several hours to reach 100%, but at $15 you really do get a great little charger, and you won’t have to worry about charging it. will even ship it for free.