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Grand Canyon Float #5: Solar-Powered Tech

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Playing glow-in-the-dark bocce; Photograph by Eric McNair-Landy
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The computer on the raft, midway through writing a blog post; Photograph by Andy Maser

In the information age it’s difficult to imagine isolated locations where cell phone service and common electrical sockets are non-existent. Yet deep in the base of the Grand Canyon neither exists, however technology does not entirely fail us. Over the years scientists have managed to manipulate light in clever ways, which allows us to transmit updates to you.

Our electricity is generated via capturing light using an array of solar panels. Combined they generate roughly 120 watts, which is enough to power our Macbook Pro, re-charge our camera batteries, and power our Globalstar phone. Impressive as that sounds it is not nearly enough energy to power a toaster oven. As there are few hours of direct sunlight due to the high canyon walls, we tend to use the panels during the day and save the electricity in a battery.

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Climbing up through a slot canyon; photograph by Eric McNair-Landry

The Globalstar phone also uses light; when transmitting it emits short bursts of light towards the sky, which are intercepted by passing satellites (the light can’t be seen by human eyes, in the same way dog whistles can only be heard by dogs). One of the 55 Globalstar satellites re-transmits our signal back to a ground station, where then our blog post is uploaded to the Internet.