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Roaming Charge

Smartphone battery running low? Get a jolt from the new generation of off-the-grid chargers.

Author Alyssa Giacobbe Illustration Carolina Melis

FOR THOSE WHO spend all day talking, texting, snapping photos of the kids and watching NASCAR on their phones, few things induce anxiety like having a nearly depleted battery and nowhere to charge it. According to a 2009 report by GSMA, a global organization of mobile phone manufacturers and operators, at any given moment nearly 500 million cell phone users around the world find themselves without access to electricity. With cell usage increasing daily, off – grid chargers-devices that convert sun, wind or good old-fashioned human power into an electric charge-are becoming big business.

The best of these new products combine renewable energy technologies with everyday functionality. Voltaic’s solar backpacks and messenger bags ($249) are made from recycled plastic and convert sunlight into talk time, while Nokia’s Bicycle Charger Kit ($40), expected to hit U.S. shelves in time for the holidays, harnesses pedal power to charge your phone while you ride. The fashion world is getting in on it too: Zegna Sport’s Ecotech solar-power jacket ($995) can deliver a full charge to phones after a few hours in the sun, and designer Andrew Schneider sells custom solar bikinis that charge iPods and other small accessories.

Leading the charge, so to speak, is U.K.-based GotWind, which over the last few years has released, among other products, a tent-mounted wind-powered generator and a kinetic dance charger (the harder you dance, the quicker the charge). At this year’s Glastonbury Music Festival, GotWind unleashed a prototype for thermoelectric wellies-rubber boots that source energy from body heat generated by walking; 12 hours of sloshing through puddles can store an hour of phone time-really.

“People loved the whole concept behind it,” says Dave Pain, managing director. “When they collapsed in their tents, they could plug their phones into their boots and be ready to go the next morning.” The company is in talks with a major shoe brand to produce a line of footwear that combines kinetic and thermoelectric energy to gather and store a charge throughout the day.

If you need further proof that the tyranny of the wall socket is coming to an end, how about this: In June, Apple filed a patent for a solar device that could render its next generation iPhones and iPads solar power–ready. At last, you can go camping and have your NASCAR, too.

At five-foot-three, ALYSSA GIACOBBE would happily pay for thermoelectric platform heels.

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