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Solar-powered library in a backpack

SolarSPELL began in 2015 when Laura Hosman challenged her students to create a solar-powered library that would fit into a backpack.

Over half the world’s population has never connected to the internet and has no internet access. The genius of SolarSPELL is the simple and inexpensive design — the parts cost less than $200. Each weather-proof, portable case (which fits into a backpack) includes a small solar panel and a voltage regulator that plugs into a battery, which powers a Raspberry Pi microcomputer. A micro digital memory card contains a digital library and some code that allows it to be accessed by any type of browser. The device creates a Wi-Fi hot spot, so no electricity or internet connection is needed.

SolarSPELL is then taken to remote areas around the world, and the beauty is in the carefully curated content. Each memory card holds reading and math tutorials, science projects, health information or English lessons that are chosen specifically for each location. The content can be provided by the local community, drawn from open-source text and videos that are available for free on the internet or taken from textbooks that are used with permission.

And now there’s big news: SolarSPELL has worked informally with Peace Corps volunteers in seven of the eight countries where it’s distributed. Now, the Peace Corps has agreed to a formal relationship with SolarSPELL. Thanks to the partnership, SolarSPELL hopes to be in 30 countries within five years.

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