The Techy Bit


Running a solar powered online website from a jungle presents a few problems, especially to someone who is as technologically backwards as I. However, nothing is impossible. This part of the site is dedicated to the hunt for the right equipment.

Any comments will be gratefully received.

The vision

The idea is simple enough. Take sufficient solar panels to charge a lap top and a satellite phone. Use the phone to connect to the internet. To save satellite phone bills work as much as possible off line then connect to the internet, paste the already written work onto the website - emails. Copy and incoming emails into word documents. Shut down the internet connection, read the new emails and compose replies ready for the next time I'm connected to the internet.

Toughnote DI - 7.pngIn order to work in extreme conditions, up to 95% humidity all equipment will have to be very tough, ruggeised is the term. I am extremely greatful to Terralogic who have offered to lend a ruggedised lap top for the duration of Mission Improbable. What remains to be done now is to find a suitable solar charger and satellite phone. This has not been as easy as one might imagine, especially as I entered into this with no knowledge of solar power, even less understanding of satellite phones and by B in GCSE physics a very distant memory.


Fortunately things are beginning to fall into place. For a while I thought it would be possible to send emails directly from a satellite phone to this website and that would dispense with the need for a computer at all. However, further investigation revealed that whilst i would be able to do this the length of the emails would be restricted to a maximum of 120 characters. Not really suitable and as fun as it might have been communicating via text message the things I am trying to achieve really require a computer.

One of the biggest problems I face and this is inherent in the nature of the expedition is the limitations of weight, whatever I take with me into the jungle I will need to be able to carry. I do intend to travel by river as much as possible but on occasions, such as when climbing Mount Cotopaxi and living up in the Polylipis forests of Ecuador this will simply not be feasible. What was really worrying me was the fact that I would need to carry a trickle feed battery, this would be charged from the solar panels and then used to charge / run the lap top. At up to 8.2 kilogrammes in weight (about 15 pounds) and quite bulky as well as expensive this item is the one that has given me the most headaches. But with an email today from Mdx putting me onto a new line of enquiry I might have found a solution. 

A solution.jpg

The photograph on the left is of a flexible solar panel manufactured by Brunton and it is plugged straight into a laptop, not a trickle feed battery in site. Interesting stuff. I got onto them to ask if this was really possible and apparently it is. Using the 14 watt solar panel (which Courtney was helpful to point out would need to be un-rolled before use) it would take ten hours of sunlight to charge a lap top. Ten hours is a bit of a compromise but it is possible to use up to three solar rolls of the same wattage run together in series and so reduce the charging time. Alternatively there is a 26 watt solar charger available but it is a fold up rather than roll up model. Personally I think fold up might be more appropriate as I think it would be easier to keep things flat in a rucksack than rolled up. I have a panama hat you see, I have had it for years, when I got it I bought a special tube that it could be rolled up and stored in whilst travelling. I'm not entirely sure what happened but my panama is now very, very flat. I shall get in contact with Terralogic and see what they have to say about this, I just hope they don't turn round and tell me never to charge directly from a solar panel.


The last part of the puzzle is the phone. I looked for a while at Iridium phones and at Thuraya phones, then I noticed that Thuraya's coverage doesn't include South America and so decided to get an Iridium one. I don't know yet if they make a ruggedised model, if they do it will be expensive, one of my tasks for this afternoon is to find out. Connection to the internet from South America is $1.16 a minute, around 63p which isn't all that bad. I estimate I could keep things running with about 15 minutes logged onto the net a week just cutting and pasting work that has been done offline. That's £9.45 a week, call it £10. If everything goes according to plan, or at least a bit according to plan I don't think it will be to hard to raise £10 a week through the website.

That's the plan, stay tuned and watch it disintegrate in all manner of ways as complications I have never imagined raise their heads.

Posted on Wednesday, May 2, 2007 at 17:18 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment