The latest trend in the IoT world is solar energy. Autonomo (by SODAQ) spiked the maker community’s interest a few month ago with their Sun-powered, Arduino-compatible, microcontroller. SunPort also jumped on the bandwagon with a portable plug that allows you to charge laptops, phones, et al, only with solar power.
Makers, or general public with an ecological conscience, the audience and targets for these devices seem to vary. LightBug are in the middle of a 4-week KickStarter campaign, aimed primarily at the consumer market; but they also think about developers and will open their API once the units have shipped. This clever little (solar-powered) tracker has a multitude of applications; from finding a lost thing to tracking your fitness or monitoring loved ones.
The makers, Chris and David, already in the trackers industry, have identified one major problem, which they are trying to solve with solar energy: a geo-tracking device becomes useless when the battery runs out. With that in mind, they also wanted to shrink their unit to the smallest size possible, to make it unobtrusive and discreet.
LightBug is half the size of anything out there right now.
LightBug only weighs 20g and can be accurate down to 50cm. It comes with a companion app, that lets you manage all your trackers. It relies on a 2G network, which means it works almost everywhere in the world (except for Korea and Japan who have already switched to 3G). The app also lets you set zones the tracker shouldn’t be entering and will alert you if it does.
The team have been through several iterations of the prototypes, trying to get the tracker as small and practical as possible. They settled on a 3D case that allowed for quick and simple changes.
3D printing has made it possible to prototype plastics quickly. I printed 20+ cases with different designs and spent weeks getting it right. I just don’t think it would have been possible to get LightBug so small without a 3D printer.
The tracker can be topped-up with even the smallest amount of sunshine (so don’t worry if you live in an area with inclement weather) and can also be charged via micro-USB. It also switches off when near your phone. And if you are close enough but can’t see it, the app can trigger LightBug’s buzzer to help you find it easily.
Our whole design is based on low power consumption, it doesn’t really rely on the solar panels other than keeping it topped up. Even if you taped over the solar panels, we’d still expect several months of battery life from LightBug.
The next thing you will need is a weather app to know when you can charge your electronic devices! Under 2 weeks to go for LightBug on KickStarter; although they raised half of their target in 3 days, they still need a little boost to reach their goal. After this first round, they plan on releasing an Arduino shield with most of LightBug’s features (GSM, Bluetooth, GPS), as well as a library.
Solar energy seems to be the answer to the all too common “dead battery” problem. Add tracking technology to the mix, and you’ve got a device that is always on and discoverable. One thing is sure, they would greatly help geeks ensure this never happens again:
Lost Drone? Spotted this on my run this morning. Next will be "Lost Robot Dog" pic.twitter.com/GIwJIYJyEN
— William McQuillan (@willmcq) March 7, 2015