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Using an Ipod For Field Research: Power

Updated on January 18, 2011

I probably held out longer than any other person when it came to the ipod craze.  Yes for years I had seen people carrying them around with the little white headphones as I held out waiting for an improved product.  Don't get me wrong, I found the ipod very slick, unrivaled, and entertaining...but that's just it.  An ipod was built for entertainment.  I have a very modest entertainment budget and couldn't justify the price just so I could listen to music.  As time has gone on the name of the game has changed.  Ipods are abandoning the click wheel for touch screen, music is becoming secondary for ipods with the advent of the most popular word of 2010: apps.  So this summer I bought an Ipod Touch.  But this time, it wasn't for entertainment.  I bought this baby for field research.

Old School

As a mentioned in another hub, field researchers used to have to have many devices for recording the data they were in the field gathering.  Thanks to Ipod Touch we are down to one device for everything.  Along with multiple devices came the need to power them.  After all, electronics don't just run, they need a power source.  Herein lies a major obstacle for scientists, paleontologists, and mammalogists alike: there isn't an outlet in the jungle.  You can't exactly plug your camera into a campfire.  So with no power grid, the next best solution was batteries.

This too is a major inconvenience for people performing field research.  Unfortunately devices use different battery sizes.  Cameras normally take AA, audio recorders usually take AAA.  Video cameras normally don't take disposable batteries at all; they have a battery pack.  You can get around all these obstacles if you plan ahead.  You have to bring lots of AA batteries for your power hungry digital camera.  Be sure to scourer the universe trying to find AAA for your audio equipment.  Oh yeah, and be sure to bring AAA with you.  Have you ever tried to find AAA batteries in Botswana?  Even if you are lucky enough to find someone selling them, they've been on the shelf for so long they've expired.  Tough luck.  Even the issue of you video camera can be avoided.  Just buy multiple battery packs and charge them all before you come.  Now you are ready for an old school research trip.  It only took an extra 30 pound backpack for the batteries

New School

Apple has again changed the game in this area as well.  Although they advertise a 40 hour life span on a single charge, that is for listening to music.  Let's face it, you probably aren't sweeting like crazy in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest just so you can listen to Deaf Leopard's greatest hits.  Music playback is not of concern.  How long can you WORK on your Ipod Touch?  Of course things may vary, but Apple advertises a 7 hour lifespan of video playback.  Chances are, what you are doing won't eat up as much battery as video playback, so conservatively I'd say you can work on your Ipod for 8-9 hours.  All in a days work.

Ok, but you're thinking "After one day I'm back in the same boat.  Where will I plug my Ipod in?"  Good question.  Here a couple slick and simple solutions for powering your Ipod while on assignment:

Solar Power

There are many solar power chargers available on the market today, and not all are created equal.  Some are big and bulky, others are heavy, some just plain don't work, and others don't have a way to store power.  All in all just because something says solar power, doesn't mean its going to work.  Do your homework.

Solar Backpacks

Voltaic Systems has an excellent line of solar backpacks.  What I like about the concept is the fact that you are going to need a backpack anyway.  Why not have a multipurpose backpack of both luggage and power source?  Makes sense to me.  Voltaic makes quality stuff and it is sure to get the job done.

However there are some drawbacks.  First the size is kind of small depending on what kind of trip you are taking.  For most traveling into the field, I imagine you are going to want a lot more space in backpack than the Voltaic backpack has to offer.  Also weight is always an issue in the field since you have to carry the backpack.  Weighing in at 4.5 pounds empty it's not exactly the lightest thing.  But overall I think the pros outweigh the cons.

My Top Pick

The Solio Classic is my top pick for charging your Ipod in the field.  I have many reasons for liking the Solio.  First it folds up compactly, and it is also lightweight.  I cannot overemphasize how important that is when traveling.  Also many people don't understand solar power.  They think that so long as the sun is out, then things are good.  Not true.  Actually there are only on average worldwide 4 hours of optimum solar energy a day.  This is called the Sun-Sync time.  You have to be taken advantage of the moments the sun is out, and high in the sky.  You have to tap in with the ideal angle of the sun against your solar panels.  Unfortunately the optimum time is typically when people are trying to get research done.  The Solio, however, has an internal battery.  So set up the Solio at your camp, go work all day in the field (your Ipod has 8 hours) and then when you get back at night plug your Ipod into the Solio and charge from the stored up power.  Presto.

*I should note that if you google the Solio Classic you will get mixed reviews.  I personally believe the negative reviews are because people don't understand solar power.  They are not getting ideal sun-sync time and therefore are complaining the product doesn't work.  I'd say it's operator error.  If they took full advantage of optimum sunlight, they would have no problem charging any portable device.

In the Game

In an ever changing world Apple is reinventing what is possible with Ipod Touch and also pushing the bounds of engineering so you can push the bounds or research. Using the advice from this hub you can now take your research anywhere.


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