London's Iconic Phone Booths Could Soon Charge Wireless Devices

One of London's famous enclosed red phone booths is going green and has been recycled as a solar-powered charging station for mobile devices.

phone booth mobile charging

An iconic red London telephone booth has been converted into a solar-powered charging station for mobile phones, tablets and other devices that residents and visitors can use for free. The project was begun to find a new use for the distinctive and famous phone booths, which have been falling out of favor as cell phones have gained popularity.

The reconstituted phone booth, which is being called a "solarbox," was invented by two graduates of the London School of Economics as a way to provide a carbon-neutral source of energy in the city, according to an Oct. 1 story by Reuters. The first such phone booth opened for public use in Tottenham Court Road in London's main central shopping district, equipped with a solar panel to power it, the story reported.

More converted phone booths are expected, with a second one scheduled to be added in January, but a final tally of how many will be built has not been established, the report stated. The charging station phone booth effort is expected to be paid for through kiosk advertising.

The project's inventors, Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston, began the effort using an $8,000 prize they won through a 2014 Low Carbon Entrepreneur competition held in London this past summer by the city's mayor, Boris Johnson, Reuters reported.

"In our modern world, where hardly any Londoner is complete without a raft of personal gizmos in hand, it's about time our iconic boxes were updated for the 21st century, to be useful, more sustainable," Johnson said in a statement.

Users of the charging stations will get the service for free but will be shown video advertisements while their devices are recharged, according to an Oct. 2 story by TechWeek Europe. About 30 percent of the ads will come from unsigned musical artists, while the rest will feature businesses such as Uber and Tinder, the article said. The converted phone booth can charge up to 100 phones, tablets, cameras and other devices per day and requires about four hours of direct sunlight to become fully charged itself.

Excess sunlight that is collected is stored in an internal battery, which allows the Solarbox to continue to charge devices for users when night falls, the story reported.

The innovative project is another twist on what seems to be an expanding array of new ideas for finding fast and accessible ways for users to charge their mobile devices wherever they travel or work.

In August, experiments at England's Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) were unveiled, centering on how to use sound waves to wirelessly charge cell phones, following up on similar work being tried by others, according to a recent eWEEK report. The work is being conducted by researchers at the school and a team from Nokia. The idea came out of research done last year by researchers from the school's engineering and materials science departments, which found that playing pop and rock music improved the performance of solar cells, according to the school. Those original findings were published in the journal Advanced Materials with the Imperial College London. Previous experiments by Nokia to use radio waves to charge cell phones were reported back in 2009.

Meanwhile, a startup called uBeam has been working for several years to perfect a method by which it uses ultrasound to move electricity from a source into a wireless device, from a smartphone to a tablet or other device. The uBeam project to find a better wireless device charger takes a different direction from the sound wave project by using ultrasound waves.

Others have tried to do similar things with no-cord charging for devices such as smartphones and tablets.

In June, Microsoft announced that it is teaming up with a clothing designer to produce pants that can wirelessly charge smartphones, eWEEK reported at the time. The company is collaborating with British designer A. Sauvage to create the world's first wireless charging trousers, using inductive charging technology from the Nokia DC-50, a device that tops off compatible Lumia smartphones using the Qi wireless charging standard.

In February, Humavox announced another approach to wireless charging that uses radio frequencies to transfer energy instead of data, according to an eWEEK report.