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Proto Labs

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Fuel-Cell Technology Brings Affordable Phone Charging to Developing Countries


The VOTO consists of a fuel cell box, fuel cards, a plastic handle that houses a NiMH battery, a white LED, and electronic circuitry
Photo courtesy of Proto Labs and Point Source Power

MAPLE PLAIN, Minn.—A recent recipient of the Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award, VOTO, uses fuel cell technology to transform heat into electricity that can be used for cell phone charging or LED lighting. This handheld device is helping bring affordable electricity to developing countries.

The VOTO consists of a fuel cell box, fuel cards, a plastic handle that houses a NiMH battery, a white LED, and electronic circuitry. Users insert the supplied fuel cards, wood, charcoal, or food waste into the fuel cell box, which is then placed into the middle of a cook stove. Once the stove is lit and the fuel cell box heats up, electricity is captured and stored in the NiMH battery. After the fire cools, the VOTO is disconnected and is ready to charge a phone or power its built-in LED light.

According to Point Source Power, the company behind VOTO, Africa alone has more than 650 million mobile phone subscribers, most of which do not have electricity in their homes, and must travel to charge them. Additionally, kerosene lamps are the current standard for home lighting. "We intend to displace dirty, toxic, and expensive kerosene lamps with an intuitive LED lighting and phone-charging product that people enjoy using, and which is affordable to the billions of people living without access to modern electricity," said Craig Jacobson, Point Source Power CEO, in a press release.

"The VOTO solves an ever-present problem facing residents of developing nations through practical means. By incorporating a device that's already used in daily life, a cook stove, this product brings increased quality of life to residents of those countries," said Larry Lukis, founder and chairman of Proto Labs, in a statement.

Before applying for the Cool Idea! Award, Point Source Power produced nearly 100 prototypes built of parts sourced from big box home repair stores to those made with 3D printers. "We turned to Proto Labs because we needed a professional-looking product that would allow us to move forward with broader sales and distribution," Jacobson said. As part of the Cool Idea! Award, Proto Labs produced molds and subsequent production of the parts that make up the VOTO handle.

Launched in 2011, the Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award (www.protolabs.com/CoolIdea) grants a total of $250,000 each year to entrepreneurs developing new products in the United States and Europe. Unlike other product awards that recognize products after they're in mass production and on store shelves, the Cool Idea! Award is meant to help cool ideas come to life in the form of real products.

Proto Labs (www.protolabs.com) s an online and technology-enabled, quick-turn manufacturer of low-volume CNC-machined and injection molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production. The company has two quick-turn services in North America, Europe and Japan: Firstcut (www.firstcut.com) CNC machining and Protomold (www.protomold.com) injection molding.

This technical information has been contributed by
Proto Labs

Click here to find suppliers

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