[Chtechcomm] Boulder Gets Solar-Powered Wi-Fi
tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Tue Aug 16 14:50:01 EDT 2005
*Boulder Gets Solar-Powered Wi-Fi
Things have suddenly gotten very busy at Lumin Innovative Products
<http://www.luminip.com/> in Boulder, Colorado. On July 15^th , 18
months after the company formed around co-founder Ben Adams's concept
for solar-powered Wi-Fi networks, Lumin deployed its first access points
at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Since that successful launch, the
four-person staff has been deluged with inquiries from press, people
looking for work, potential investors, and prospective clients.
Lumin's first-generation product is the LightWave AP-1000 solar-powered
access point, which comes in two models, single and dual. The Pearl
Street deployment utilizes four dual units, each of which is located out
of sight on a well-chosen rooftop, and features two hinged solar panels.
(The single unit LightWave includes only one panel.) While each access
point has a potential range of up to 30 miles, this deployment, which
only covers a six-block area, required four APs due to the number of
trees interfering with line-of-sight along the cobblestoned outdoor mall.
The decision to bring free Wi-Fi to Pearl Street [/though not the first
solar-powered Wi-Fi in the country, as was pointed out by/ Daily
was made by the Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District
<http://www.dbi.org/>. Lumin designed the units with more remote areas
in mind, locations where there is little or no available
power--obviously not the case in downtown Boulder. But the
environmentally-friendly power source enticed the Pearl Street planners
into becoming the first clients. The network cost $10,000 to deploy, but
upkeep costs will essentially be nil. The rechargeable batteries need to
be swapped out every so often, but the solar panels are built to run for
The science behind LightWave is actually quite simple. "Basically, you
open the solar panels, they charge the batteries, and the batteries
power the system," says Lumin co-founder Sally Lyon.
While the weather in Boulder is beautiful much of the year, it's not the
kind of place one might think of as a prime location for solar-powered
equipment. Cloudy, rainy, snowy, and overcast days are normal. But, says
Lyon, the notion that solar panels must be located somewhere with direct
sun year-round is a misconception.
"The solar panels are so sophisticated that we can register a charge
from the moon," says Lyon. "It's a myth that it can only be used in the
Southwest. In the complete, pitch black night is the only time when
there's no charge. On a cloudy day, it's charging."
It only takes five hours of direct sun--or the cumulative equivalent
amount of light over a longer period of time--to charge the battery
completely. A fully-charged battery can power one LightWave for 72 hours.
"Even if you were in a complete snowstorm for a couple of days, you've
still got a system running," says Lyon. "The reality is, for all
practical purposes, it's a reliable system with an abundant energy
source, and in the long term, it's extremely cost-effective."
Because a 100 percent solar-powered network will continue to run even
when electricity is out, and LightWave offers enterprise level security,
it has obvious "homeland security" and emergency management uses.
"When power's out, the first 24 hours can be crucial to saving lives,"
says Lyon. "If the system is already in place, and if a disaster strikes
and takes out power, our network will still be operational. They are
also very portable, so if FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency
<http://www.fema.gov/>] has a supply of them, they can move into an area
that has lost power and set it up very quickly, mobilize search and
rescue, do resource management. The infrastructure would already be in
place, it could be functioning with VoIP all the time. For instance, the
tsunami area... it would have made a major difference in that area.
There are smaller examples all over the world."
Currently, the company is seeking its next round of funding. The R&D
phase was funded by the founders' own resources, along with micro loans
from friends and family.
"We told people it would work, but now there's a third-party
endorsement, we're looking for a pretty major infusion of capital," says
Adams, Lumin's co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, has a military
background along with several months of civilian service during
"Operation Iraqi Freedom," both of which sparked his interest in making
portable and secure wireless networks possible in desert or other remote
"The last thing he was doing before he left the military," says Lyon,
"was building a network for a training in the middle of the desert... He
was tasked to do this, but how do you build a network with no power
source? He couldn't find anything on the market, so he ended up just
sort of putting together a system off a rental car battery, with the
antenna on the roof. While he was roasting in the desert, he thought,
'If I only had a solar panel.'"
It seems Adams has made his wish come true. But the company isn't
"Our mission," says Lyon, "is to explore and expand the realm of global
communication. We want to empower people and connect them in ways they
never before imagined. And we mean /all/ people. We think this
technology in the developing world, in terms of information and health
care, it just makes sense... Where power is a luxury, we can bring
everything to a place like that, because this technology allows us to
create networks that have unlimited possibilities."
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