Next week in Ghana, a Canadian company will officially launch a solar-powered laptop that may soon find its way into North America, perhaps as a Chromebook.
The firm, WeWi Telecommunications, has built a rugged and submersible laptop that's designed to handle severe environments and quickly charge up on solar power. What's especially interesting is the price: It starts at $350.
The London, Ontario-based firm is calling it SOL, and the system was built to solve the problems developing countries have, said David Snir, the CEO and founder of WeWi. "We traveled to Africa and we saw the need," said Snir, who noted a frustrating inability to get electricity when working in that country.
SOL will also be released in North America by the end of the year and its specs and capabilities may find appeal in the U.S. market.
The laptop weighs about five pounds, and is about 2 inches thick at its highest point. But that's part of the trade-off for having solar panels.
The four solar panels are little smaller than the 13.3-in. LCD display and open up in butterfly fashion. The panels are protected by the clamshell cover.
In sunlight, the solar panels can charge the replaceable battery in about two hours. (In cloudy conditions, a full charge might take up to three hours.) The battery is good for about eight to 10 hours, said Snir. The solar panels can be detached from the notebook and -- connected by wire -- placed in a sunny area to charge the unit while a user works at a desk or under a shady tree.
The system has been tested with Ubuntu Linux, which is being installed on it. But other operating systems are possible. In North America, Chromebook is one of the possibilities.
"We love Chrome," said Snir. "We see huge potential in Chrome."
Chromebooks require an Internet connection, something that's not an always an option in some regions of the world. For North America, "we are absolutely considering coming out with a version using Chrome," said Snir.
Channel partners will have the ability to install their own operating systems, as well.
The system is rugged. The shell is made of fiber-reinforced polymers. The internal electronics are protected as well, and there are shock absorbers inside to help protect the system from falls. For $50 more, there's a version that is submersible.
"Instead of making sure water would not seep into the computer, we said it's going to happen anyway," said Snir. With that design approach in mind, all the electronics are coated with hydrophobic nano materials that completely repel water, he said.
The system will support 3G and 4G networks, along with Wi-Fi, and it has SIM card support. There is an Intel Atom chip, and a 320GB hard disk drive. The SOL can support 2GB to 4GB of memory.
There's really not much mark-up on the system, said Snir.
"We really want to get Africa connected and we really want to help developing countries," he said. "We're not out to make a huge amount for money from our laptops."
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.