Solar power may have a long way to go if it's going to become our primary source of energy, but there's no doubt it is going to play a larger and larger role as time goes on. We already told you about the most efficient solar panels ever, but one group of engineers has come up with a way that anyone can integrate solar energy into everyday life. Believe it or not, the lenses of these sunglasses double as solar panels.
The Future's So Bright...
Developed as a research project at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the "solar glasses" collect energy in the form of light all day long. The lenses are made of organic solar cells, which aren't as efficient as silicon-based cells but make up for it by being highly flexible, lightweight, and available in any color. They even work when they aren't in direct sunlight. There's enough light in a standard office space or living area for the glasses to generate about 200 microwatts — enough to power a step-counter or a hearing aid.
Right now, all the glasses power is themselves: the energy they collect is used for a digital display tracking ambient temperature and brightness. Why you'd need to measure how bright it is outside when you're already wearing sunglasses is beyond us, but it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the glasses work. Guess our fancy Transitions lenses are yesterday's news.
...You Gotta Wear Shades
You might be thinking that this is such a great idea, it's strange that nobody has thought of it before. Well, actually, they have. In 2008, designers Hyun-Joong Kim and Kwang-Seok Jeong came out with a similar pair of sunglasses, though these used a film of dye-sensitized solar cells over the lenses and made you look like an extraterrestrial attending a '90s party. And in 2013, Digital Trends reported on a pair designed by Sayalee Kaluskar that incorporated the solar panels into the temples instead of the lenses, and charge a battery hidden inside the plastic.
But what sets these new glasses apart is their ability to charge themselves in real-time (like the solar-powered calculator you had in grade school). That means they don't need a battery in order to work, cutting the weight down to that of traditional sunglasses and making the technology easy to integrate into fashionable frames. Seems to us that it's only a matter of time before we're all wearing glasses that double as self-powered Bluetooth headsets.