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Sharp Solar Panels To Power Kiwi Developed Road Sensors

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Sharp Solar Panels To Power Kiwi Developed Road Sensors

Monkeyroom swing world first with real time solar powered road sensors

New Zealand hi-tech development house Monkeyroom has secured a world first, partnering with Japanese electronics giant Sharp to build a new generation of solar powered road-side sensors.

Sharp Electronics Singapore managing director, Shigeto Okawa, says Monkeyroom's sensors are one of the first non-cellphone uses of Sharp's super thin solar panels anywhere in the world. He says the global opportunity for the sensors, and applications that can be designed around them, is "far reaching".

The Palmerston North-based company is being treated not just as a customer but as a strategic partner, with Sharp offering research and development support and engineering input into future development. "It is extremely important for us to be a part of this new concept system," says Mr Okawa. The Monkeyroom roadside sensors are designed to monitor real time traffic movement, including parking occupancy, and relay data to a back-end web system through a series of internet gateways which are also solar powered. Mr Okawa, says he's impressed with Monkeyroom's development ethos, in particular the environmental aspects, with solar power replacing batteries in its sensors.

The partnership with Sharp arose after Monkeyroom founder and director Don Sandbrook had searched the world for a solar panel component that was small enough to be robotically placed on a chip for volume production. "We needed to build a low profile sensor that was incredibly small, and the panel needed to be more efficient than batteries for constantly monitoring traffic flow or the presence of a vehicle in a parking bay," says Mr Sandbrook.

Samples from China, Germany and Japan were tested and while the super-thin panels from Sharp were perfect, per unit costs would have made the system too expensive. Monkeyroom initially decided on a German manufacturer but its second batch of panels delivered less power than the first. While Monkeyroom was trying to resolve this problem, Sharp sent a representative to renegotiate. "They had just completed a factory in Japan to build these small high performance solar panels for the cell phone market and were looking for non-cellphone products. They thought our parking sensors were a winner with worldwide potential," says Mr Sandbrook. The first batch of sensors Monkeyroom use the same panels as Sharp's latest hybrid cell phones, although the first international orders will feature a customised next generation panels.

Sandbrook is impressed with the Sharp panels which have enabled his sensors to operate in very low light situations. "We've over-specified the panel to store light and draw energy from the supercap which acts like a battery." He believes the panels will have a minimum 15-year life.

"There are huge marketing advantages in this relationship with Sharp. They are a top brand and a reputable company and that helps put people at ease about the quality and reliability of the solar panels."

Sharp has been developing and refining its solar technology and manufacturing practices for the residential and commercial market since 1963. It began developing high efficiency small form factor solar panels for powering cell phones in 2008.

It continues to develop its technology with greater efficiency in mind and has just completed work on a single crystal type panel which will further improve capacity and power.

While Monkeyroom's innovation is a world first, Mr Okawa is expecting many other applications to emerge including solar powered remote telemetry, locator beacons, personal navigation, handheld computing and gaming devices and measuring and lighting equipment.

Mr Okawa says solar power is one of the best solutions to create and save energy. While this is a field where there's growing competition he remains confident that Monkeyroom's solar powered road sensors are in a league of their own. Photograph: MonkeyroomSharp.jpg Caption: Ultra thin solar panel powers parking sensor unit. Sharp Electronics Singapore managing director, Shigeto Okawa (right) with Sharp's solar panel which will power the parking sensors designed by Monkeyroom founder and chief executive Don Sandbrook. Mr Okawa and Daisuke Koike (left) from Sharp Electronics Singapore's strategic planning centre have offered full support for the New Zealand designed sensor which they believe is a world first.

About Monkeyroom Monkeyroom is a Palmerston North-based innovation hub, specialising in mobile technology, GPS (global positioning systems), internet and software development. This skilled team of developers and strategic thinkers is focussed on using technology to solve everyday industry problems with the export market in mind.

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