The Australian Army Is Creating Solar-Powered Soldiers

Ever get that moment of panic when your phone runs out of batteries, you’re stranded with no way to get home and you were born too late to remember that pay phones are anything other than quaint anachronisms? Now imagine being an Aussie soldier in the field in the same situation. While no one likes running out of battery, for soldiers it is quite literally a life or death situation.

Of course this situation is far more unlikely for a trained and prepared soldier than for your average civilian office worker, but the amount of weight they often have to carry in backup batteries alone is a growing problem.

Technology in the field can make the difference between a successful mission and a failed mission. Vital field tech like night vision goggles, GPS and communication systems, radios, sensors and even personal computers are useless without a power source, meaning that running out of battery isn't just an inconvenience: it's downright dangerous.

With each bit of tech potentially using a different power source, the Australian Defence Force is at the point where dismounted soldiers can easily end up carrying between 10 and 20kg just of batteries.

But there's a fix in the works from the Aussie Army boffins.

The SIPS -- Soldier Integrated Power System -- is a smart design for a tech-reliant soldier, centred around sustainable energy use. The project is a collaboration between ANU, CSIRO and Australian company Tectonica.

ANU’s contribution is the lightweight, flexible SLIVER solar cells integrated into the soldier’s kit to allow them to generate their own power and increase mobility in the field. Combine this with CSIRO’s e-textiles -- conductive pathways through fabrics that eliminate the need for tangles of cables -- and already the soldier is able to generate their own power in a way that barely interferes with their standard kit.

The main power source slots into a pocket on the soldier’s vest, while they also have easy access to a power management device, letting them allocate power between their devices as needed.

Now if only I could get one of these for all those power-hungry smartphone days, I’d be set.