Spor – 3D Printed Solar Battery Charger in Your Pocket

Spor is a start up that wants to put solar power in your pocket. They are now live on Kickstarter trying to raise money to make a packable portable solar charger available to you and the developing world. Their innovative unit let’s you connect and daisy chain Spor devices together to charge multiple things.

Because the casing of the Spor charger is 3D printed and the team of Drexel students used 3D printing to develop the Spor I asked them some questions on how they used 3D printing to design and manufacture.

Joris Peels: Why did you come up with Spor?

Spor: Originally, my partner Jason developed the idea out of necessity – his phone kept dying and he needed a more portable way to charge it. As many initial products go, that’s never the final iteration so when he started building it, it started to have many more features and ultimately applications.

JP: How long did it take you to develop it?

S: It’s taken about two years to get to this point. Post some initial funding, the process was expedited and it’s taken about eight months to really land on a solid product.

JP: Where/How did you prototype it? On what machine?

S: The original prototype was done at a placed here in Philadelphia called NextFab. It’s really like a playground for makers – 3D printers, CNC machines, Pick and Place machines, etc. For the original 3D printed prototype, we used the a Projet by 3D systems.

JP: Why 3D printing?

S: Why not? It’s customizable and fun on the surface. More than that, it’s technology that’s rapidly changing the landscape for products and our ability to create. Humans have a long history of consumption – we’re trying to encourage creation. Create something new and relative to your own standards; 3D printing gives us that ability and we’re hoping to scale it appropriately.

JP: Was it easy for you to make a 3D printed product?

S: It was for the simple fact of access. We’ve done a lot of reading and research on the technology but more importantly, we had access to 3D printers at school, personally, and through a membership at NextFab.

JP: Will this be 3D printed as an end use product? If so what technology?

S: We’re looking at it two ways. (1) that we can print the shells for our chargers as customers like and (2) makers can use open source programs to design their own shells for end use.

JP: What was difficult about 3D printing?

S: Haha, the designs! It took some time to really craft what we wanted. On our own 3D printers, we also ran into issues on the actual prints. When we sourced from i.materialise and shapeways, it was a lot less stressful to get a solid product printed without running into production issues.

JP: What advice do you have for designers who want to develop a consumer product using 3D printing?

S: Find a membership lab that you can get into and use it! Get out there and start learning more of the technology – not just from a design perspective but from an actual print perspective. Focus on modularity. Build a product that has components that can be packaged together easily so when the time comes to scale, you’re not backtracking to find ways to increase your ability to mass produce.

JP: What issues did you find along the way?

S: Quality issues: we really had to do our due diligence on purchasing and setting up our printers. Early on, we ran into issues of the quality of the print just coming out completely inadequate. Two week black hole: be conservative with your launch and production estimates. We found ourselves in the ‘two week black hole’ where you always think something is two weeks away and then two weeks come and guess what? It’s two more weeks away.

JP: Does it have a battery?

S: Yes, it has a 5,600 mAh battery which equates to roughly 3.5 full iPhone charges if the battery was fully charged.

JP: What can I charge with this?

S: You can charge 5V mobile devices. Ultimately, we’d like to get into larger mobile devices but one step at a time.

JP: How long does it take?

S: To charge direct by solar: 16 hours. To charge by the outlet: 3-4 hours. To charge your mobile phone or other devices: it pushes out at 2 amps so you’ll get a similar charge rate as an outlet

JP: What technology do you use to print it?

S: Bukobot 3D Printer, Makerbot Replicator and Makerbot Replicator 2X, Project 7000 HD

JP: What does can Daisy Chain mean?

S: Daisy chain means you can charge one Spor with others in parallel. It’s a way to increase the capacity of the system and your ability to charge other devices.

JP: How does this foster entrepreneurship?

S: Through a micro consignment model. We’re looking to connect with developing countries where populations have the highest mobile phone penetration without adequate electricity infrastructure. Take the rural areas of Ghana for instance; people literally ride a bus an hour into the city to find a man with a backpack who has chargers attached to him and pay him to charge. We want to get that man Spor’s where he can resale at his own price, keep the profits, and become an entrepreneur. We have some distribution networks tentatively established in Ghana but are looking at micro-consignment non profits to grow this.

JP: How much does one cost?

S: We’re looking to retail for $50

JP: How will this help the world?

S: We view ourselves as selling energy. Not just a consumer product and that is why we’re designing an ecosystem that Spor works within (spor, panels, and cables) to scale energy use. In the states, we’re connecting people with their mobile devices. Abroad, we’re connecting people to the next step in their country’s development. We’re helping the world by giving people the power to access more of their lives.

I wish the Spor team lots of luck you can support them and their dream on Kickstarter.

Joris Peels is a heavyweight 3D printing industry commentator who doesn’t shy away from discussions and is never short on educated, animated opinions. Joris blogs about 3D printing at VoxelFab and works as a consultant in the 3D printing industry. He previously worked for Shapeways and i.materialise and as a developer of Origo, a 3D printer for kids. Follow him on Twitter.