NET NEWS: Windup Computers?

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Science  19 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5409, pp. 1811
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5409.1811c

Just as people once wound up Victrola phonographs, cyberjunkies may soon be cranking a handle to fire up their computers.

A United Kingdom-based company called the Freeplay Power Group is working with other companies to develop a hand-cranked power supply for laptops. It would fill in when batteries fail and there's no sun for solar panels—although some models would be a blend of all three, says Vaughan Wiles, U.S. president of Freeplay. The idea is a spin-off of the company's main product: hand-cranked radios that a British inventor came up with to help people in parts of Africa without reliable power.

The computer power supply, which could go on the market next year, works by tightening a spring that slowly unwinds, spinning a gear train connected to a small generator. Selling for $50 to $90, one version might be the size of a shoe box, weigh 1.8 to 2.7 kilograms, and power a laptop for, say, 45 minutes after a 30-second crank, Wiles says. “It's a good idea,” says David Hughes, head of Old Colorado City Communications in Colorado Springs, which is funded by the National Science Foundation to set up wireless Internet connections in rural areas and places like Mongolia. Hughes envisions two cranks: one for a computer, and another for a radio to relay network signals.

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