Ontario vendor bringing solar-powered laptop to Africa

A London, Ont.-based company is hoping its take on a solar-powered, water-resistant laptop will give Africans a new computing solution.

Launching Tuesday in Accra, Ghana, WeWi Telecommunications Inc.’s laptop is designed to be more rugged and outfitted for Africans’ needs. It comes with a set of solar panels that give the user up to 10 hours of battery life after spending two hours under the sun. The panels can be folded away under the laptop when not in use. A higher-end, water-resistant version of the Sol is also coated in a hydrophobic material which protects the laptop from water damage.

“We are focusing on Africa, because they have a lot of troubles with their electricity infrastructure,” says David Snir, WeWi’s founder and CEO.

The Sol laptop features solar panels, harnessing solar power to charge itself.
The Sol laptop features solar panels, harnessing the sun to charge itself.

WeWi’s co-founders developed the germ of the idea for the Sol about a year and a half ago, during a visit to Ghana. One of the co-founders is originally from that country, and WeWi has a subsidiary there whose primary job is to fulfill government contracts.

While one of the company’s main tasks is to build cellular towers, Snir says he was struck by how often the power grid would go down in Ghana, with that problem translating to much of the rest of Africa.

“While we were there, even in Accra, it has a lot of troubles. Every few days, it would have a power outage throughout the city or through its regions. For us, it was odd that it happened so persistently and nothing was really done about that,” he says.

“But then, the more we looked into it, the more we saw that the entire African continent has this issue. It is really a very rapidly growing economy, but at the same time … people have difficulty getting electricity to power these computers.”

To respond to the problem, WeWi started building the Sol laptop. While the laptop was modeled somewhat after the Panasonic Toughbook, a very durable laptop meant to withstand falls, spills, dust, and dirt, the Sol is much less costly. And since so many Africans are currently using second-hand computers, there’s a real need for devices of a higher caliber, Snir says.

As another feature, the Sol laptop can also charge smartphones. Many Africans rely on their handsets as their primary connection to the Internet, with some even using them for daily mobile payments.

Due to regular power outages, it’s not uncommon to see people fighting and arguing over places to charge their phones, Snir says, so using solar panels to charge more than one device will come in handy.

The Sol laptop has a traditional clamshell design.
The Sol laptop has a traditional clamshell design.

WeWi is currently in talks with governments and NGOs to subsidize the costs of the devices for African consumers. The goal is to one day give young African students free laptops, as well as bring in people who can teach them basic computer skills, Snir says.

While the Sol laptop is mostly geared towards African markets, WeWi is also looking towards marketing its product to North America and Europe.

Running Ubuntu Linux, a free operating system, the laptop weighs about five pounds and is about two inches thick. Its screen features a 13.3″ LCD display, and it has an Intel Atom D2500 1.86 gigahertz dual core processor. For video conferencing, it contains a three megapixel webcam, two speakers, and an internal microphone. More details on the Sol’s specs can be found here.

Pricing starts at about $350, or up to $490 in countries with high import taxes. For the water-resistant version, the laptop is priced at $400, or up to $560 with import taxes.

Watch WeWi’s video on the Sol laptop, shown below.

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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