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Having fun with the sun

February 13, 2011

Saturday in the Hoskins household was Dad and youngest Daughter day as Mum and eldest Daughter went off to the cinema and shopping. It was a nice sunny winter’s day for a change, after several weeks of rain and a great opportunity to play with a toy I bought her for Christmas. As I have daughters and not sons, the usual tradition of fathers buying toys for their sons that they can play with themselves hasn’t really applied in our household to date, as I grew out of playing with dolls when I was about five ;)

The toy is an interesting kit that I spotted a while back that enables you to experiment with solar power. Although it is designed for the 10+ age category, my daughter, who is close to 9, had no problems following the assembly instructions and building the various components from the ‘Airfix’ style kit. That process was a useful lesson in how an electric motor and gears work and also the basic elements of a solar panel. The only fiddly bit was attaching the wires and when I finally twigged that I was making it more complicated than it needed to be, even that was pretty simple.

During the course of a few hours play, we made a solar powered car, windmill and dog. The car was the least successful as it needed stronger sunlight to get the sufficient power to move its weight and obviously as soon as it propelled itself out of the sun, it stopped.

The windmill was particularly impressive. It had very large blades in comparison to the absolutely tiny electric motor but even in relatively low sunlight it was turning rapidly and creating quite a draught.

My daughter’s favourite creation however was the solar dog. Once in sunlight, the weighted tail rotates and causes a vibration through the body and legs that moves the dog along a surface. As with anything that vaguely resembles an animal, the ‘solar dog’ became her new best friend for the rest of the day and had to accompany us to the local supermarket.

I recommend this toy for its modular ingenuity and also for the way it stimulates thought about the potential for solar powered devices. For budding entrepreneurs out there, I think it would be an interesting idea to scale this modular solar device idea up so that you could have a larger solar module with a multi-purpose electric motor unit that could be applied to full scale tasks, particularly things like a fan for circulating cooler air or for extracting hotter air.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. MattC permalink
    February 20, 2011 12:38 pm

    I think there’s definitely a market for modular solar panels in various sizes as you have with batteries now. I need a small fan to fit in the van so I can improve the ventilation characteristics and I want this to be able to run through the night so need it to charge a re-chargeable battery. It would be great if I could install the fan and battery unit and add modular power to it as required and then swap the solar modules onto a phone charger or other application as needed rather than having to buy a brand new one or re-wire the existing one.

  2. February 25, 2011 11:17 am

    Hmm – interesting points Matt and useful to get your views based on your fantastic travel experiences in that van of yours. Swappable solar modules sounds like an idea worth exploring more…

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